by Herman Melville
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Moby-Dick Literature and Writing Quotes Page 4

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Quote #10

Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid with all manner of grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was striving, in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tattooing on his body. And this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last. (110.19)

We’ve gone through the whole novel assuming two things: that by the end we’d figure out what the White Whale means, and that Queequeg himself knows what his tattoos mean. But if a man can be covered all over with symbols that he has no way of interpreting, then maybe a novel can, too.

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