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by Herman Melville
Events / Chapter 12: Biographical
Moby-Dick Chapter 12: Biographical Summary
Ishmael gives the reader Queequeg’s back-story: Queequeg is from a (fictional) South Sea island called Kokovoko, from a noble family: his father was a king, and his uncle, a high priest. As a child, Queequeg always wanted to travel and to see more of the white Christian men than he could observe on a passing whaling or trading ship now and then. Queequeg tried to become a sailor on a whaling ship from Sag Harbor, but it didn’t need any more men and he was refused. He paddled after the ship in his canoe, sank the canoe, climbed up the side of the ship, grabbed a ringbolt on the deck and refused to let go. Eventually, the captain of the ship agreed to let Queequeg stay and made him an ordinary sailor on the ship. Queequeg hoped that he would learn things to improve the lives of his people, but instead he discovered that "even Christians could be both miserable and wicked" (12.4). He gave up on trying to become like the Christians and resolved to remain a pagan, although he kept living among the white men. Hearing this narrative, Ishmael asks Queequeg if he wants to return home and become king, since his father is probably dead by now. (Tactful, Ishmael.) Queequeg says that his experiences among the Christians have perhaps made him unfit to be a pagan king, but he might go back eventually when he thinks the time is right and he’s ready. In the meantime, he’ll be a harpooneer and sail on whaleboats. Ishmael and Queequeg decide to find a whaling ship sailing from Nantucket on which they can both get jobs together. Queequeg blows out the light, hugs Ishmael, and they go to sleep. Awwwww.
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