Wheelbarrow. Chapter 13.

by Buxton Brown

I admit I have been negligent in my duties as your official tour guide of Moby-Dick. Life gets in the way, and sometimes the work suffers. If only I maintained the diligent madness of an obsessive, we could be much farther along. I am not sorry. If you’re reading this, you’re still here.

Upon departing the Spouter Inn, Ishmael and Queequeg borrow a wheelbarrow for to transport their luggage. Queequeg proceeds to share a story about his first encounter with a wheelbarrow, in which he strapped the thing to himself and carried it with the handles over his shoulders. Or something like that. Ishmael asks “Didn’t people laugh?”

Queequeg shares another story, in which some white folks visit his home on the island of Kokovoko. The commander of the ship mistakes a rather important ceremonial bowl as a hand washing station.

“Now,” said Queequeg, “what you tink now?- Didn’t our people laugh?”

It seems that people take their customs very seriously. Hermano Melville seems to be equating wheelboarrows and ceremonial bowls in their effect to sow the seeds of mistrust. Once again, it seems Hermano Melville was ahead of his time in understanding that most of our customs, the things that we take most for granted, are not, in fact, innate behavior.

After boarding some small ship headed for Nantucket, some green fool starts mocking Queequeg. Thinking he’ll have a bit of fun, Queequeg picks up this buffoon, tosses him around, and places him safely back upon the deck. Of course these white clowns get their panties in a bunch, being shown up by a savage, and try to get Queequeg in trouble with the captain. No sooner does that happen that the wind picks up, the boom (the horizontal beam that holds the sail) starts swaying back and forth and sends the buffoon into the water. Queequeg, being THE MAN, almost immediately secures the boom like some sailor ninja, strips down, dives into the water, swims furiously for several minutes, dives under water, reemerges with said buffoon, and returns to the ship.

He did not seem to think that he at all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies. He only asked for water- fresh water- something to wipe the brine off; that done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemes to be saying to himself- “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians.”

This chapter is so cool that even if you never read the book, read this one chapter from start to finish. I get the feeling I will be saying that again. Next.