by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread – an Ahasuerus to behold. Suspended from his ears were two golden hoops, so large that the sailors called them ring-bolts, and would talk of securing the top-sail halyards to them. In his youth Daggoo had voluntarily shipped on board of a whaler, lying in a lonely bay on his native coast. And never having been anywhere in the world but in Africa, Nantucket, and the pagan harbors most frequented by whalemen; and having now led for many years the bold life of the fishery in the ships of owners uncommonly heedful of what manner of men they shipped; Daggoo retained all his barbaric virtues, and erect as a giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six feet five in his socks. There was a corporeal humility in looking up at him; and a white man standing before him seemed a white flag come to beg truce of a fortress. Curious to tell, this imperial negro, Ahasuerus Daggoo, was the Squire of little Flask, who looked like a chess-man beside him. (27.9)
There’s a lot to say about this description of Daggoo, but we’ll stick with pointing out that, as an African tribesman who "voluntarily shipped," Daggoo functions in the novel as the symbolic replacement for much more common figures who don’t show up: African-American slaves or descendant of slaves who were kidnapped from Africa and brought to the American South. Considering that Melville wrote Moby-Dick in 1851, when slavery was a major issue for America, and that this novel shows signs of considering race thoughtfully, it’s interesting that there aren’t any slaves in the story at all – just different types of stand-ins for them.
As for the residue of the Pequod’s company, be it said, that at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are. Herein it is the same with the American whale fishery as with the American army and military and merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in the construction of the American Canals and Railroads. The same, I say, because in all these cases the native American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles. (27.9)
At this point, the novel’s broad-minded thinking about race seems to collapse. Casting the white American settler – who, you’ll notice, gets described as "the native American" here, thus replacing the actual Native Americans – as the "brains" and the "rest of the world" as the "muscles" creates a disturbing metaphorical hierarchy. The real question is whether this passage is meant to be ironic or not.
Hold on hard! Jimmini, what a squall! But those chaps there are worse yet – they are your white squalls, they. White squalls? white whale, shirr! shirr! Here have I heard all their chat just now, and the white whale – shirr! shirr! – but spoken of once! and only this evening – it makes me jingle all over like my tambourine – that anaconda of an old man swore ’em in to hunt him! Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear! (40.47)
Pip’s first soliloquy makes us aware of all the dangers that face him as a young African-American man on board ship. He’s afraid of the storm, but even more afraid of the actions of the white sailors around him. Plus, he’s been so indoctrinated in the religious customs of white Americans that he doesn’t see himself as made in God’s image anymore. He imagines that his racial difference affects, not only his relationships with men, but his relationship with God.