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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 21: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 17: Day 21: The Ramadan

Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also. But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.”



I previously read this passage and thought Ishmael to be a wise, considerate man. But the context this time around has me questioning myself! Queequeg is still on the floor partaking in his, as Ishmael calls it, “Ramadan.” No one can move Queequeg or call him to supper or engage him in any way. Ishmael decides that Queequeg is a fanatic about his religion (based on the fact that Queequeg is deeply into meditation?) and decides to argue that point with Queequeg after he has completed his religious duty.

I mean, really. Ishamel is basically saying he is the authority on when a person’s religion becomes fanatic. All Queequeg has done is not bother anyone while he mediates for 24 hours. He has been holed up in his room, not creating any inconvenience to another soul and Ishmael decides this is a fanatical approach to religion. Hmmm.

Once Ishmael does try to school Queequeg, things end this way: “He [Queequeg] looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.” Gotta love that Queequeg.

Why is Melville showing me a rather boorish Ishmael? The narrator I thought was speaking for Melville turns out to be a bit of an ass this time around. Or maybe Ishmael’s as pompous and self-righteous as the rest of us?

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