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by Herman Melville

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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