Chapter 17 - THE RAMADAN



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Herman Melville was the author of an account of what we'd now consider an illegal activity, the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat.



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CHAPTER 17. The Ramadan


As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name.

I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;—but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.

Towards evening, when I felt assured that all his performances and rituals must be over, I went up to his room and knocked at the door; but no answer. I tried to open it, but it was fastened inside. "Queequeg," said I softly through the key-hole:—all silent. "I say, Queequeg! why don't you speak? It's I—Ishmael." But all remained still as before. I began to grow alarmed. I had allowed him such abundant time; I thought he might have had an apoplectic fit. I looked through the key-hole; but the door opening into an odd corner of the room, the key-hole prospect was but a crooked and sinister one. I could only see part of the foot-board of the bed and a line of the wall, but nothing more. I was surprised to behold resting against the wall the wooden shaft of Queequeg's harpoon, which the landlady the evening previous had taken from him, before our mounting to the chamber. That's strange, thought I; but at any rate, since the harpoon stands yonder, and he seldom or never goes abroad without it, therefore he must be inside here, and no possible mistake.

"Queequeg!—Queequeg!"—all still. Something must have happened. Apoplexy! I tried to burst open the door; but it stubbornly resisted. Running down stairs, I quickly stated my suspicions to the first person I met—the chamber-maid. "La! la!" she cried, "I thought something must be the matter. I went to make the bed after breakfast, and the door was locked; and not a mouse to be heard; and it's been just so silent ever since. But I thought, may be, you had both gone off and locked your baggage in for safe keeping. La! la, ma'am!—Mistress! murder! Mrs. Hussey! apoplexy!"—and with these cries, she ran towards the kitchen, I following.

Mrs. Hussey soon appeared, with a mustard-pot in one hand and a vinegar-cruet in the other, having just broken away from the occupation of attending to the castors, and scolding her little black boy meantime.

"Wood-house!" cried I, "which way to it? Run for God's sake, and fetch something to pry open the door—the axe!—the axe! he's had a stroke; depend upon it!"—and so saying I was unmethodically rushing up stairs again empty-handed, when Mrs. Hussey interposed the mustard-pot and vinegar-cruet, and the entire castor of her countenance.

"What's the matter with you, young man?"

"Get the axe! For God's sake, run for the doctor, some one, while I pry it open!"

"Look here," said the landlady, quickly putting down the vinegar-cruet, so as to have one hand free; "look here; are you talking about prying open any of my doors?"—and with that she seized my arm. "What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you, shipmate?"

In as calm, but rapid a manner as possible, I gave her to understand the whole case. Unconsciously clapping the vinegar-cruet to one side of her nose, she ruminated for an instant; then exclaimed—"No! I haven't seen it since I put it there." Running to a little closet under the landing of the stairs, she glanced in, and returning, told me that Queequeg's harpoon was missing. "He's killed himself," she cried. "It's unfort'nate Stiggs done over again there goes another counterpane—God pity his poor mother!—it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl?—there, Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with—"no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;"—might as well kill both birds at once. Kill? The Lord be merciful to his ghost! What's that noise there? You, young man, avast there!"

And running up after me, she caught me as I was again trying to force open the door.

"I don't allow it; I won't have my premises spoiled. Go for the locksmith, there's one about a mile from here. But avast!" putting her hand in her side-pocket, "here's a key that'll fit, I guess; let's see." And with that, she turned it in the lock; but, alas! Queequeg's supplemental bolt remained unwithdrawn within.

"Have to burst it open," said I, and was running down the entry a little, for a good start, when the landlady caught at me, again vowing I should not break down her premises; but I tore from her, and with a sudden bodily rush dashed myself full against the mark.

With a prodigious noise the door flew open, and the knob slamming against the wall, sent the plaster to the ceiling; and there, good heavens! there sat Queequeg, altogether cool and self-collected; right in the middle of the room; squatting on his hams, and holding Yojo on top of his head. He looked neither one way nor the other way, but sat like a carved image with scarce a sign of active life.

"Queequeg," said I, going up to him, "Queequeg, what's the matter with you?"

"He hain't been a sittin' so all day, has he?" said the landlady.

But all we said, not a word could we drag out of him; I almost felt like pushing him over, so as to change his position, for it was almost intolerable, it seemed so painfully and unnaturally constrained; especially, as in all probability he had been sitting so for upwards of eight or ten hours, going too without his regular meals.

"Mrs. Hussey," said I, "he's ALIVE at all events; so leave us, if you please, and I will see to this strange affair myself."

Closing the door upon the landlady, I endeavored to prevail upon Queequeg to take a chair; but in vain. There he sat; and all he could do—for all my polite arts and blandishments—he would not move a peg, nor say a single word, nor even look at me, nor notice my presence in the slightest way.

I wonder, thought I, if this can possibly be a part of his Ramadan; do they fast on their hams that way in his native island. It must be so; yes, it's part of his creed, I suppose; well, then, let him rest; he'll get up sooner or later, no doubt. It can't last for ever, thank God, and his Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't believe it's very punctual then.

I went down to supper. After sitting a long time listening to the long stories of some sailors who had just come from a plum-pudding voyage, as they called it (that is, a short whaling-voyage in a schooner or brig, confined to the north of the line, in the Atlantic Ocean only); after listening to these plum-puddingers till nearly eleven o'clock, I went up stairs to go to bed, feeling quite sure by this time Queequeg must certainly have brought his Ramadan to a termination. But no; there he was just where I had left him; he had not stirred an inch. I began to grow vexed with him; it seemed so downright senseless and insane to be sitting there all day and half the night on his hams in a cold room, holding a piece of wood on his head.

"For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself; get up and have some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself, Queequeg." But not a word did he reply.

Despairing of him, therefore, I determined to go to bed and to sleep; and no doubt, before a great while, he would follow me. But previous to turning in, I took my heavy bearskin jacket, and threw it over him, as it promised to be a very cold night; and he had nothing but his ordinary round jacket on. For some time, do all I would, I could not get into the faintest doze. I had blown out the candle; and the mere thought of Queequeg—not four feet off—sitting there in that uneasy position, stark alone in the cold and dark; this made me really wretched. Think of it; sleeping all night in the same room with a wide awake pagan on his hams in this dreary, unaccountable Ramadan!

But somehow I dropped off at last, and knew nothing more till break of day; when, looking over the bedside, there squatted Queequeg, as if he had been screwed down to the floor. But as soon as the first glimpse of sun entered the window, up he got, with stiff and grating joints, but with a cheerful look; limped towards me where I lay; pressed his forehead again against mine; and said his Ramadan was over.

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.

And just so I now did with Queequeg. "Queequeg," said I, "get into bed now, and lie and listen to me." I then went on, beginning with the rise and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down to the various religions of the present time, during which time I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were stark nonsense; bad for the health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and common sense. I told him, too, that he being in other things such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his. Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved. This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters. In one word, Queequeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.

I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever troubled with dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he could take it in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was after a great feast given by his father the king, on the gaining of a great battle wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two o'clock in the afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening.

"No more, Queequeg," said I, shuddering; "that will do;" for I knew the inferences without his further hinting them. I had seen a sailor who had visited that very island, and he told me that it was the custom, when a great battle had been gained there, to barbecue all the slain in the yard or garden of the victor; and then, one by one, they were placed in great wooden trenchers, and garnished round like a pilau, with breadfruit and cocoanuts; and with some parsley in their mouths, were sent round with the victor's compliments to all his friends, just as though these presents were so many Christmas turkeys.

After all, I do not think that my remarks about religion made much impression upon Queequeg. Because, in the first place, he somehow seemed dull of hearing on that important subject, unless considered from his own point of view; and, in the second place, he did not more than one third understand me, couch my ideas simply as I would; and, finally, he no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than I did. He 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.

At last we rose and dressed; and Queequeg, taking a prodigiously hearty breakfast of chowders of all sorts, so that the landlady should not make much profit by reason of his Ramadan, we sallied out to board the Pequod, sauntering along, and picking our teeth with halibut bones.


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CHAPTER 1. Loomings.

CHAPTER 2. The Carpet-Bag.

CHAPTER 3. The Spouter-Inn.

CHAPTER 4. The Counterpane.

CHAPTER 5. Breakfast.

CHAPTER 6. The Street.

CHAPTER 7. The Chapel.

CHAPTER 8. The Pulpit.

CHAPTER 9. The Sermon.

CHAPTER 10. A Bosom Friend.

CHAPTER 11. Nightgown.

CHAPTER 12. Biographical.

CHAPTER 13. Wheelbarrow.

CHAPTER 14. Nantucket.

CHAPTER 15. Chowder.

CHAPTER 16. The Ship.

CHAPTER 17. The Ramadan.

CHAPTER 18. His Mark.

CHAPTER 19. The Prophet.

CHAPTER 20. All Astir.

CHAPTER 21. Going Aboard.

CHAPTER 22. Merry Christmas.

CHAPTER 23. The Lee Shore.

CHAPTER 24. The Advocate.

CHAPTER 25. Postscript.

CHAPTER 26. Knights and Squires.

CHAPTER 27. Knights and Squires.

CHAPTER 28. Ahab, Captain.

CHAPTER 29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.

CHAPTER 30. The Pipe.

CHAPTER 31. Queen Mab.

CHAPTER 32. Cetology.

CHAPTER 33. The Specksnyder.

CHAPTER 34. The Cabin-Table.

CHAPTER 35. The Mast-Head.

CHAPTER 36. The Quarter-Deck.

CHAPTER 37. Sunset.

CHAPTER 38. Dusk.

CHAPTER 39. First Night Watch.

CHAPTER 40. Midnight, Forecastle.

CHAPTER 41. Moby Dick.

CHAPTER 42. The Whiteness of The Whale.

CHAPTER 43. Hark!

CHAPTER 44. The Chart.

CHAPTER 45. The Affidavit.

CHAPTER 46. Surmises.

CHAPTER 47. The Mat-Maker.

CHAPTER 48. The First Lowering.

CHAPTER 49. The Hyena.

CHAPTER 50. Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah.

CHAPTER 51. The Spirit-Spout.

CHAPTER 52. The Albatross.

CHAPTER 53. The Gam.

CHAPTER 54. The Town-Ho's Story.

CHAPTER 55. Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.

CHAPTER 56. Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True

CHAPTER 57. Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in

CHAPTER 58. Brit.

CHAPTER 59. Squid.

CHAPTER 60. The Line.

CHAPTER 61. Stubb Kills a Whale.

CHAPTER 62. The Dart.

CHAPTER 63. The Crotch.

CHAPTER 64. Stubb's Supper.

CHAPTER 65. The Whale as a Dish.

CHAPTER 66. The Shark Massacre.

CHAPTER 67. Cutting In

CHAPTER 69. The Funeral.

CHAPTER 70. The Sphynx.

CHAPTER 71. The Jeroboam's Story.

CHAPTER 72. The Monkey-Rope.

CHAPTER 73. Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk

CHAPTER 74. The Sperm Whale's Head—Contrasted View.

CHAPTER 75. The Right Whale's Head—Contrasted View.

CHAPTER 76. The Battering-Ram.

CHAPTER 77. The Great Heidelburgh Tun.

CHAPTER 78. Cistern and Buckets.

CHAPTER 79. The Prairie.

CHAPTER 80. The Nut.

CHAPTER 81. The Pequod Meets The Virgin.

CHAPTER 82. The Honour and Glory of Whaling.

CHAPTER 83. Jonah Historically Regarded.

CHAPTER 84. Pitchpoling.

CHAPTER 85. The Fountain.

CHAPTER 86. The Tail.

CHAPTER 87. The Grand Armada.

CHAPTER 88. Schools and Schoolmasters.

CHAPTER 89. Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish.

CHAPTER 90. Heads or Tails.

CHAPTER 91. The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud.

CHAPTER 92. Ambergris.

CHAPTER 93. The Castaway.

CHAPTER 94. A Squeeze of the Hand.

CHAPTER 95. The Cassock.

CHAPTER 96. The Try-Works.

CHAPTER 97. The Lamp.

CHAPTER 98. Stowing Down and Clearing Up.

CHAPTER 99. The Doubloon.

CHAPTER 100. Leg and Arm.

CHAPTER 101. The Decanter.

CHAPTER 102. A Bower in the Arsacides.

CHAPTER 103. Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton.

CHAPTER 104. The Fossil Whale.

CHAPTER 105. Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?—Will He Perish?

CHAPTER 106. Ahab's Leg.

CHAPTER 107. The Carpenter.

CHAPTER 108. Ahab and the Carpenter.

CHAPTER 109. Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin.

CHAPTER 110. Queequeg in His Coffin.

CHAPTER 111. The Pacific.

CHAPTER 112. The Blacksmith.

CHAPTER 113. The Forge.

CHAPTER 114. The Gilder.

CHAPTER 115. The Pequod Meets The Bachelor.

CHAPTER 116. The Dying Whale.

CHAPTER 117. The Whale Watch.

CHAPTER 118. The Quadrant.

CHAPTER 119. The Candles.

CHAPTER 120. The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch.

CHAPTER 121. Midnight.—The Forecastle Bulwarks.

CHAPTER 122. Midnight Aloft.—Thunder and Lightning.

CHAPTER 123. The Musket.

CHAPTER 124. The Needle.

CHAPTER 125. The Log and Line.

CHAPTER 126. The Life-Buoy.

CHAPTER 127. The Deck.

CHAPTER 128. The Pequod Meets The Rachel.

CHAPTER 129. The Cabin.

CHAPTER 130. The Hat.

CHAPTER 131. The Pequod Meets The Delight.

CHAPTER 132. The Symphony.

CHAPTER 133. The Chase—First Day.

CHAPTER 134. The Chase—Second Day.

CHAPTER 135. The Chase.—Third Day.








Moby Dick is the antogonist in this story of a great white 'bull' sperm whale that fought back at whalers who tried to harpoon him.


The idea came to Herman Melville after he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being harpooned in 1838.


Herman realised how fixated the sailors became, and he also became with the thought that there was a whale that nobody could catch, that represented a real risk to the whalers hunting whales, in that it was more sport than commercial operations.


Without any doubt this is one of the greatest novels coming out of America at this time and way off the beaten track, making it so interesting, reflecting the state of whaling and the economic importance in the developing the nation - giving the general public a taste of something adventurous that most people never think about.


Many films and graphic novel adaptations have been inspired by the writings of Herman Melville, from Marvel and Disney comics with good cause.


One such production in 2020 is a graphic novel about a giant humpback whale called Kulo Luna, that sinks a modern whaling boat, much as depicted in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, except that is this day and age whales have explosive harpoons to contend with, and sonar, from which there is no escape.




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