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Free Study Guide-Moby Dick by Herman Melville-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapters 20 -21

Summary

Here, the reader gains insight into the preparation that goes into making a voyage on the high seas. Since Pequod is going to sail for three long years, everything needed for the kitchen as well as for maintaining the ship is listed and stored. This preparation goes on for days. In this chapter, the reader is introduced to ‘Aunty Charity,’ Bildad’s sister, who helps in the ongoing preparations. Once the preparation is done with, Ishmael and Queequeg are informed that they will be stinting the next day. However, Ishmael still does not meet the captain.

The next day, Ishmael and Queequeg leave the inn at dawn. As they near the wharf, they see shadows of men running on the decks of the Pequod. Assuming that they are the other crewmembers, they quicken their pace. But the mysterious man, Elijah, once again stops them. He warns them that tragedy and doom surround the Pequod. Ishmael does not want to believe him but Elijah continues to make conversation. He asks them if they have seen men moving around on the ship. When Ishmael affirms this, Elijah asks him in a very curious manner: "See if you can find ‘em now, will ye?" While Ishmael is trying to make sense of his question, Elijah walks off saying: "Oh! I was going to warn ye against - but never mind...." Convinced that the man is crazy, they move on towards the ship.


However, on board they do not a single soul on the decks, except an old ‘rigger’ fast asleep on two chests. Ishmael finds it rather strange because just a while ago they had seen people moving about from a distance. When they wake up the sleeping rigger, they are informed that Captain Ahab has already joined the ship and is in his cabin.

Notes

In chapter 20, Ishmael is seen as being somewhat uneasy about the trip since he has not even met the captain of the ship he is going to be on board for three years.

His meeting with Elijah again only adds to his fears and anxieties. Except for this meeting with Elijah who makes Ishmael uncomfortable, the writer’s style is light, even humorous and descriptive about the goings-on aboard the ship. However, Elijah’s mysterious words and warnings cast a gloom over the departure of Pequod. The people that Ishamel sees going aboard the Pequod are in fact Fedallah and his crew who will be a mysterious presence on board the ship throughout the novel.

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