Saturday, February 3

Introducing Queequeg

In Moby Dick, Queequeg was the chief harpooneer on the whaling ship Pequod.

Ah, the Pequod. Then, as now, a metaphor for the United States.

The Pequod was commanded by the mad Captain Ahab, who had been hired by the ship's owners because he presented himself as a sane, sober man who would discharge his duties as a responsible steward of the ship on its multi-year voyage. Once the Pequod was far out to sea, Ahab revealed to his startled crew that he had his own agenda. The Pequod wasn't on a voyage to hunt whales and deliver a hold full of whale oil to the ship's owners; no, gathering whale oil was only incidental to Ahab's true purpose: to hunt down and kill Moby Dick, the great white whale that had "demasted" Ahab on a previous voyage -- had taken Ahab's leg.

The chief mate was Starbuck, a reasonable, moral man who knew that Ahab's mission was folly. Starbuck was decent and ineffectual. He prophesied that the voyage of the Pequod would end in doom, but he refused to challenge Ahab's authority, thus allowing the catastrophe to happen.

The second mate was Stubb, who didn't give a damn about anything and thought everything a joke, and the third mate was Flask, who had a third-rate mind and a blind hatred of whales.

And Queequeg? Queequeg was Starbuck's harpooneer. Whenever a whale was spotted, three boats were dropped into the water, each whaling boat led by one of the mates. In the whale hunt, Starbuck directed where to row the boats. But Queequeg did the important work, thrusting his lance into the quarry.