Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow

  • Ishmael and Queequeg leave the inn the next day; Ishmael pays with Queequeg’s money.
  • The landlord and other guests are amused by their intimate friendship.
  • They borrow a wheelbarrow to transport all their belongings as they go to catch a ferry called the Moss, which will take them to Nantucket.
  • As they walk, everyone stares at the two men who are "upon such confidential terms" (13.2), but Ishmael and Queequeg ignore them.
  • Ishmael asks Queequeg why he carries his own harpoon—don’t whaling ships come with harpoons?
  • Queequeg says that he prefers his own, which has a successful history of whale slaughter.
  • Queequeg tells Ishmael a story about the first time he saw a wheelbarrow.
  • He didn’t know how it worked, so he tied it to his chest and carried it on his shoulders.
  • When Ishmael asks if people laughed at him for this, Queequeg tells another story: back at his home on Kokovoko, the captain of a whaling ship was invited to the wedding feast for Queequeg’s sister. The captain didn’t understand the local customs and washed his hands in the punchbowl.
  • Then Queequeg asks Ishmael if he thinks the Kokovoko people laughed at the captain for this blunder. We would guess—yes?
  • Ishmael and Queequeg board the ferry with all of their luggage in tow, and the Moss sets sail down the river.
  • On one side of the river, they see fancy houses, and on the other, whale ships at the docks.
  • The boat moves into more open water, and Queequeg and Ishmael both get excited as the boat jostles and reels around.
  • Eventually, Ishmael and Queequeg notice that the other passengers are making fun of them for being "so companionable" (13.7).
  • Queequeg grabs one particular country bumpkin who is "mimicking him behind his back" and throws him high in the air, then turns his back on the guy and starts smoking his pipe again (13.7).
  • The bumpkin tattles on Queequeg to the ferry captain, who threatens Queequeg and tells him to leave the guy alone.
  • The weather suddenly gets rougher, and the bumpkin in question is swept overboard.
  • Everyone panics and nobody can seem to get the ship under control—the boom (a long pole attached to the bottom of the sail) is swinging wildly around.
  • Queequeg, cool-headed as always, quickly stabilizes the boom with a rope, pulls off his shirt and jacket, jumps into the sea, and rescues the bumpkin, who promptly revives.
  • Everyone is grateful to Queequeg for the rescue, and the captain forgives him for what he did to the bumpkin earlier.
  • Queequeg remains humble about his heroics.

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