Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Chapters 7 - 8
New Bedford has a Whalemen's chapel, which is regularly visited by the sailors on Sundays whenever they are ashore. Returning from his stroll, Ishmael also visits the chapel for the Sunday mass.
On entering the Chapel, Ishmael finds it extremely calm and silent as opposed to the cold winds shrieking outside. A group of sailors, their wives and sailorsí widows are present in the Chapel. People are wrapped up in their own silent grief as they offer prayers. Since the captain has not yet arrived, these silent worshippers sit looking at the various marble tablets bordered in black. On these tablets are inscribed the names of the sailors who lost their lives at sea. The grieving widows and relatives have erected the tablets in their memories.
As Ishmael prepares to take a seat near the door, he is surprised to see Queequeg sitting next to him. Affected by the solemn air that reigns in the chapel, Queequeg looks around the room and is filled with curiosity and interest. As Ishmael sits observing the worshippers and the marble tablets, he ponders over death, especially the innumerable deaths that occur due to accidents at sea. Furthermore, he wonders about the grieving relatives at home whose pain does not subside even with time. In the process, he asks some very valid questions on manís attitude towards death and superstition surrounding it. The chapter ends with Ishmael questioning the biblical teaching that manís life on earth is but a shadow on earth. Ishmael refers to the Christian philosophy that man suffers on earth, but will attain bliss in the next world. Reacting to it, he says that human beings are like those oysters who see the world through the film of water and believe that it is the sky. In other words, Ishmael suggests that the world is not only what man sees around him through his eyes.
In the following chapter, the narrator introduces the reader to the chaplain, Father Mapple, who used to be a sailor and a harpooner in his youth, before he joined the ministry. Perhaps due to his previous occupation, he has a few peculiarities in him. First of all, unlike other ministers, he does not come in a carriage. Moreover, he does not even carry an umbrella to protect himself from the cold wet weather. He enters the chapel wearing a soaking hat and coat. The lofty pulpit is rather high. Instead of the regular stairs going up to the pulpit, the architect seems to have taken Father Maple's advice. In the place of the stairs, a perpendicular rope ladder is made, which is very similar to the ladder used to get on to a ship from a boat. Father Mapple climbs up the rope ladder, like a sailor does holding the rope, hand over hand.
Besides, the ladder, a huge painting adorns the space between the two walls on either sides of the pulpit. The painting depicts a terrible storm at sea. From above the dark threatening clouds, there appears an angelís face whose bright face sheds light on a majestic light on the shipís deck. The bright ray of light emanating form the angel seems to be telling the ship to move on, for the sun will soon shine through and the weather will calm down.
Furthermore, the pulpit also reminds Ishmael of the sea since its paneled front is made to resemble a shipís bow. The Holy Bible is placed on a piece of scrollwork projecting out, which again resembles a ship beak. The pulpitís shape suggests that the Bible at the bow is like the world of God at the bow, all ready to face the storm or evil in the sea or the world.
These two chapters are full of imagery and symbols of death and how people view it. In revealing the grieving worshippers in the Chapel, the author reveals the risk involved in the whaling industry. For so many relatives on shore are left grieving over their dear ones who have lost their lives in the innumerable accidents that occur at sea. Although there is risk involved, Ishmael knows that without that danger humans cannot test who they are.
At the end of chapter 7, Melville gives his view on the philosophy of life and death. Here he disagrees with the established philosophy that man suffers on earth and attains bliss in the next world. Instead he sees that the spiritual can be found in the material. Ishmael is not afraid of death because he does not place heavy importance on the body. Instead, he sees all of his actions as having relevance to this world and not the one beyond.
In chapter 8, the reader meets Father Mapple who is about to deliver a sermon from the pulpit. The pulpit itself is compared to the prow of a ship and therefore the ship becomes a microcosm of the world. Mapple is a former harpooner and therefore understands the ways of sailors and life on board and will use them to his advantage during his sermon.