Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag

  • Ishmael packs a few things into a carpetbag (carpetbags were used stereotypically by people who traveled often) and heads from Manhattan to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
  • He intends to take the ferry from here to Nantucket, but he’s too late. He’s stuck in New Bedford for the night.
  • Ishmael explains that New Bedford is becoming the new center of the whaling trade, but he’d rather sail from Nantucket, because that place has older and more prestigious connections with whaling. Ishmael’s a bit of a snob.
  • Sadly, Ishmael doesn’t have much money, so he wanders around for a long time looking for the cheapest possible place to spend the night.
  • Ishmael wanders into the poorest, most deserted streets near the water, rejecting "The Crossed Harpoons" and "The Sword-Fish Inn" as too expensive.
  • He goes into what he thinks might be a cheap inn, but it turns out to be "a n**** church" (2.6).
  • Finally Ishmael finds a place called "The Spouter Inn," run by someone unfortunately named Peter Coffin. (Bad omen? You decide.)
  • The Spouter Inn is sort of New Bedford’s version of the fleabag motel—it looks run-down, but it’ll get the job done cheaply.
  • Before Ishmael enters "The Spouter Inn," he spends a moment feeling sorry for himself and brooding about the difference between cold wind when you’re looking out of your warm house at it and cold wind when you’re standing right in the middle of it.
  • Then, he snaps himself out of this self-indulgent attitude and heads on in.

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