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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 20: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 17: Day 20: The Ramadan

There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;—but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.



So, here’s the thing about Ishmael as a narrator, or about Melville as a writer – WTF sometimes! Queequeg, we know, is not a Muslim. He is a cannibal who worships his little idol Yojo. So why Ishmael says Queequeg is celebrating Ramadan is odd, to say the least. Ish also starts this chapter by saying, let’s let everyone believe what they believe and love them all. Then he says that Queequeg has ‘the most absurd notions’ about his own religious beliefs. Is Melville showing us that Ishmael is not the most trustworthy of narrators? Or is Melville not the most accurate of writers?  This chapter has given me pause.

There is much to like here. The overall notion is that all people all over the world are in need of healing and so let whatever heals you be accepted. Still, Ishmael equates Queequeg with paganism and the Muslim faith and cannibalism in one paragraph. And, truthfully, uses judgy language toward Queequeg’s faith.

I’m struggling with Ishmael right now and why, or if, we are to question his take on things. And if so, why Melville wants us to do so. Sigh . . . More reading ahead!

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