Chapter 7: Day 9: The Chapel
“How is it that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why do all the living so strive to hush the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings. But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.”
Here is the philosophical Ishmael. He goes to the Chapel, where he says all men tend to go before boarding a ship and describes the memorials on the wall. There are mourners are there, presumably taking comfort in God and the memory of their loved ones. Like we do.
Then we get this line of questioning by Ishmael: When we die, if it’s true a better life awaits us, why are the living so sad? Moreover, why are we afraid of ghosts – to hearing things from beyond the grave? All good questions, I say to Ishmael.
Then, in a stroke of Melvillian brilliance, we have the jackal in her role as Faith. Faith is supposed to be lovely. Sweet. Comforting. But Faith is now a jackal. Jackals, considered by the Egyptians to represent the God of death, look for things to feed upon among the tombs. But in this metaphor, the jackal, representing death, gathers hope and faith from the scraps of the dead, just as we gather hope and faith when we lay our loved ones to rest and put faith in their resurrection.
And there we find Ishmael, himself in the Chapel along with all the other jackals asking questions that make people fidget and turn the page. I’m listening, Ishmael.