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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 19: The Prophet Summary

  • Ishmael and Queequeg leave the Pequod and are stopped by a badly dressed stranger with a fascinating skin disease.
  • The man asks if they have agreed to sail in the Pequod, and Ishmael says that they have.
  • The sinister stranger asks if they’ve also sold their souls, if they have any. Ishmael doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
  • Then the man asks if they’ve met "Old Thunder," which is apparently Captain Ahab’s nickname. Ishmael says they haven’t, and that all they know is that he’s "a good whale hunter, and a good captain to his crew" (19.22).
  • The stranger says that both of these things are true, but that there’s more: Ahab once seemed dead for three days after a mysterious happening, and he’s done other strange and terrible things.
  • And, of course, he lost a leg to a whale on his last voyage.
  • Ishmael asks the man to be clearer, but the man just says that, if they’ve already signed the papers, then what’s done is done.
  • Ishmael thinks the man is trying to scam them in some way, and that there isn’t really any sinister secret lurking behind Captain Ahab.
  • Ishmael asks the man his name, and the man says "Elijah."
  • Ishmael and Queequeg walk away, talking about how ridiculous the man is—and then Ishmael notices that Elijah is following them.
  • Ishmael turns around and starts going back the way they came.
  • Elijah doesn’t follow, so Ishmael feels a little bit better.

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