Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 17: The Ramadan

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 17: The Ramadan

  • Ishmael leaves Queequeg alone all day to perform his religious observances with Yojo, since this is apparently a special religious holiday for Queequeg.
  • Ishmael tells the reader that he believes in religious tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude.
  • In the evening, Ishmael assumes that Queequeg is finished with his holiday and goes upstairs to their room, but the door is locked. Ishmael calls, but there’s no answer.
  • Ishmael looks through the keyhole. He can’t see Queequeg, but he can see Queequeg’s harpoon, so he assumes the man is there somewhere.
  • Ishmael tries to break the door down and can’t. He runs downstairs and finds a maid and then the landlady, Mrs. Hussey, and tries to convince them to pry the door open.
  • When Mrs. Hussey understands what’s going on, she’s afraid that there’s been another suicide at her inn.
  • She orders the maid, Betty, to go get a sign made that says "no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor" (17.10). (Sounds useful to us.)
  • The landlady tries to keep Ishmael from breaking down the door and damaging the inn, but Queequeg has bolted the door from the inside and no key or locksmith will help.
  • Ishmael goes ahead and breaks the door down in spite of Mrs. Hussey’s objections.
  • When they get into the room, they find Queequeg sitting in the middle of the floor holding Yojo on top of his head. He doesn’t move or speak.
  • They try to get Queequeg to move or respond, but he won’t, so finally Ishmael sends Mrs. Hussey away and sits beside Queequeg, since he can’t do anything else.
  • After a while, Ishmael goes downstairs and has supper, then goes back to bed. Queequeg is still sitting in the same position and not speaking. Ishmael’s starting to get pretty pissed.
  • Ishmael puts his heavy jacket around Queequeg’s shoulders to keep out the cold and goes to bed. It takes him a long time to fall asleep because he’s worried about Queequeg. (Aww!).
  • At sunrise, Queequeg gets up and tells Ishmael that his holiday is over.
  • Ishmael makes Queequeg get into bed and tries to explain that extreme ascetic behavior—such as fasting, meditating, and sitting still in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time—is ridiculous and unhealthy and causes indigestion.
  • Ishmael is equally critical of Lent (a Christian fast), Ramadan (a Muslim fast), and Queequeg’s own tribal customs. (Note that Ishmael calls Queequeg’s fast "a Ramadan," but this is just a general use of the term to mean a religious fast. Queequeg isn’t Muslim.)
  • Ishmael asks Queequeg if he’s ever had indigestion. Queequeg says only once, when his people won a major battle and cooked and ate fifty of their captives.
  • Ishmael stops him before he explains any more about his tribe’s cannibalistic customs.
  • Queequeg doesn’t seem affected by Ishmael’s lecture about religious customs; in fact, he seems to pity Ishmael for not knowing better.
  • Ishmael and Queequeg get up, eat a breakfast of chowder, and head to the Pequod.

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