Chapter 3: Day 7: The Spouter-Inn
“And what is it, thought I, after all! It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin. [. . . ] For all his tattooings he [Queequeg] was on the whole a clean, comely cannibal. What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself – the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.”
Musings: So much has happened since Chapter 1. Ishmael has stopped being the narrator who tells me what to do and has now situated himself firmly into the storyteller mode. Perhaps he senses I am with fully onboard with him now. Ishmael has also moved from Manhattan to New Bedford where he must wait to sail to Nantucket to catch a whaling ship.
Ishmael, short of cash, finds himself sharing a bed with the loveable cannibal Queequeg. So much has been written about these two men. Were they lovers, brothers, friends – all of those things? I’m not sure I care to define their relationship any more than to say they loved each other.
My thought is that Melville wanted to startle America with this relationship. Here is Ishmael sleeping with a tattooed non-Christian cannibal. Queequeg, who has been out selling shrunken heads, also worships an idol made of wood.
But Ishmael wants us to know that Queequeg is human, like him. Deserves love and respect. Whatever else can be read into their relationship, I think this is the primary message Melville wants us to have. We are not to be defined by our outside. And what a message that is.