Another chapter with a woman in it! In this case, the spectral Bildad’s sister, Charity — “Aunt Charity, as everybody called her. And like a sister of charity did this charitable Aunt Charity bustle about hither and thither, ready to turn her hand and heart to anything that promised to yield safety, comfort, and consolation to all on board a ship in which her beloved brother Bildad was concerned, and in which she herself owned a score or two of well-saved dollars.”
Here Ishmael makes a comparison between the “housekeeping” that occurs on shore and that housekeeping — apparently much more demanding — aboard a whaleship, which must carry supplies for “a three-years’ housekeeping upon the wide ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and bankers.”
Once again an ominous note is sounded: “For besides the great length of the whaling voyage, the numerous articles peculiar to the prosecution of the fishery, and the impossibility of replacing them at the remote harbors usually frequented, it must be remembered, that of all ships, whaling vessels are the most exposed to accidents of all kinds, and especially to the destruction and loss of the very things upon which the success of the voyage most depends.” As a result, whaleships must have “spare boats, spare spars, and spare lines and harpoons, and spare everythings, almost, but a spare captain and duplicate ship” To put it another way, everything is duplicated — and therefore expendable — except for the ship itself — and its captain.
Food for thought, as it were.
Ishmael and Queequeg watch as the Pequod is provisioned by Peleg, Bildad, and Charity. Every so often, he asks about Captain Ahab, only to be told “that he was getting better and better, and was expected aboard every day; meantime, the two Captains, Peleg and Bildad, could attend to everything necessary to fit the vessel for the voyage.”
Moby-Dick is a retrospective narrative, a novel that’s told as if it were a memoir. It’s presumably years later, and Ishmael is able to reflect on his experience. And he let us know, that back in the day, he wasn’t completely honest with himself:
If I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.
Question: Is Ishmael — our narrator — being honest with himself — and with us — now?
The chapter is read for us by Avril Bellinger, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in Social Work at Plymouth University. Today’s illustration is OrtaWater – Barcode (2005) by Lucy & Jorge Orta. For more information about the materials used and to see a higher resolution image, visit the “Big Reads” site.
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[Cross-posted with Patell and Waterman’s History of New York]