“And God created great whales.”
Is there a more unusual character in literature than the cannibal turned harpooner? One expects traditionalism when reading “Moby-Dick,” so when the reader is first introduced to Queequeg, well, call me surprised. We first meet this literary icon at the Sprouter-Inn in
Ishmael, on his way to
His hunger sated, Ishmael begins to worry about where he’ll be sleeping. The landlord – a creaky old fellow – informs him that the inn is full. No more beds. However, the landlord is willing to sell Ishmael half a cot that he must share with a harpooner.
Ishmael balks at first. Instead, he finds a hard bench by the windows and tries to make due. But the cold is deep and seeps through the window glass. Finally, he reluctantly agrees to shard a bed.
He discovers that his bedfellow is “a dark complexioned chap. He never eats dumplings, he don’t – he eats nothing but steaks, and likes ‘em rare.”
Ishmael frets mightily about his decision. He learns that the harpooner may be returning to the inn late because he’s out selling a shrunken head. The news causes Ishmael to lose his patience with the landlord.
But exhausted, he climbs into his bed to await his mysterious roommate. Time ticks away and the night lapses into the wee hours of the morning. At last, Queequeg arrives carrying a lone candle. In the flickering light, Ishmael gets his first look at the head-peddling harpooner from the
“Good heavens! What a sight! Such a face!”
Queequeg has a dark purplish, yellow skin tone with black, square tattoos running along his cheeks. He is completely bald, except for a “scalp-knot twisted on his forehead.” His back and chest are also covered in tattoos and he carries a tomahawk that doubles as a tobacco pipe.
Ishmael is shocked and terrified to be sleeping with this savage cannibal. He screams for help from the landlord – and a row nearly erupts. But there is something in the demeanor of Queequeg that calms the sailor and they end up fast friends.
Some say more than friends. The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael has raised more than a few eyebrows. Many people see a sexual relationship. It’s easy to see why with passages like these:
Are Ishmael and Queequeg gay?
Probably not. “Moby-Dick” was written in 1851 and society was a different place. It wasn’t uncommon for straight men to share beds, to embrace and touch, to become bosom buddies in a short period of time. This, of course, would be considered homosexual behavior today. I tend to agree with Melville scholar Carl F. Houde who notes:
“There has been controversy about this imagery, some seeing a movement toward romantic love. But one must be very careful before pushing Melville’s language into special meanings.”
Certainly the bond between the two characters is a strong one – but not a gay one (although there’s nothing wrong with that).
Progress to date: Page 132 of 655.