Moby-Dick Chapter 110: Queequeg in his Coffin Summary
To find the leaking casks, the crew of the Pequod have to unpack everything in the hold, bringing barrels of oil, food stores, and bundles of iron on deck and searching back into the corners of the ship.
In the course of working in the cold, damp hold, Queequeg gets very sick and nearly dies.
While on his (almost) deathbed, Queequeg calls someone (probably Ishmael, but the text is ambiguous) to him and asks him to arrange for Queequeg to have a coffin made out of a Nantucket canoe – a nice combination of his tribe’s custom of burying men at sea in their canoes, and the Nantucket tradition of using similar canoes for coffins.
From some dark tropical wood they have on board, the carpenter makes a canoe coffin for Queequeg. The coffin is made-to-measure.
When the coffin is finished, Queequeg insists that it be brought to him and that his harpoon, a paddle, some provisions, and a few other things be placed in it. Then he lies down in it to try it for size.
After a moment, he asks the "one" friend (again, probably Ishmael) to bring his statue of Yojo to him, and to put the coffin lid on top. He’s satisfied.
Pip comes to Queequeg, takes his hand, and offers to play a death-march for him on his tambourine.
Starbuck comments that madmen often seem to be tapping into some source of genius and prophecy.
Pip continues to comment on Queequeg’s death, comparing it to his own "death" as a coward. Pip thinks he’s not really himself, and that the real Pip died when he jumped out of Stubb’s boat.
Queequeg suddenly recovers from his illness, saying he has changed his mind about dying and insisting he can choose whether or not to live.
Queequeg uses the coffin as a chest to store his clothes and carves the lid with symbols that he copies from his body.
We learn that Queequeg’s tattoos are as much a mystery to him as they are to us – a holy man carved him with symbols that he himself can’t read.