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Chapters 14 - 15
Ishmael and Queequeg reach Nantucket without any other dramatic event. Here, Ishmael acquaints the reader to the island’s history and lore. He says that Nantucket is a tiny, barren and sandy island. In the 1800s, it had become one of the chief centers of the whaling industry in the U.S. Giving a brief history of the island, Ishmael states that Native American Indians first discovered the island. The legend has it that an eagle from the sea picked up an Indian baby and that the Indians followed the bird in their Canoe. When they reached an island, they find the baby’s bones on the shore. Therefore, the first settlers are Indians. Later came the white men, who set out from its shores to fish and later to voyage to distant lands. Ishmael adds that a person from Nantucket is so close to the sea that he feels at home sailing on the waters.
In the following chapter, Ishmael and Queequeg reach Nantucket shores in the evening. In the dark, they try to find an inn recommended by Peter Coffin. It is the ‘Try-Pots’ owned by Peter Coffin’s cousin, Hosea Hussey. After a bit of confusion over the directions given by Coffin, the two reach the ‘Try-Pots.’ At the entrance, Ishmael sees two trees, chopped off on the other side so that they look like gallows.
It makes Ishmael rather uneasy. He wonders if it is an ill omen as he has come across an innkeeper called Coffin, a chapel where worshippers were grieving over the dead, and now this. He also sees the tablets with black borders in memories of the dead sailors. But he brushes away these strange feelings and proceeds to meet the owner who is not in. However, Hosea Hussey’s wife is in charge in his absence. The two hungry sailors are served a bowl of hot steaming, delicious clam chowder followed by cod chowder, which is equally delicious. After this sumptuous meal, they prepare to retire for the day. As they go towards their room, Mrs. Hussey asks Queequeg to leave his harpoon downstairs. This is because, there had been an incident previously when a sea man had been found dead in the room, struck down by his own weapon. Now, Mrs. Hussey does not want to take any chances. Queequeg does, as she desires, though a bit reluctantly.
The author continues to intertwine historical fact with myth and legend. One learns a bit of the history and legend of the Nantucket Island and how the Indians in and around Nantucket tended to be the best sailors and harpooners in the whaling industry.
Later, when Ishmael and Queequeg look for the Chowder Inn, the atmosphere or the tone of the novel becomes a bit gloomy. Ishmael gets an uneasy feeling at the entrance. Thus, right from the beginning many of the signs and symbols portend that the journey Ishmael is going to take might face disaster. Yet from a wider perspective these symbols also relate to the arduous journey that many have to take in order to live one’s life. Therefore, although Ishmael brushes these signs aside, they continue to occur, often in the form of people or objects through out the novel.