English 329, “Queequeg in His Coffin”

Chapter 110 (“Queequeg in His Coffin”) allows us to trace the development of a central character in Moby-Dick.  Consider what Queegueg meant in earlier chapters and link it to his reappearance here.  Has Melville been consistent in depicting this Pacific Island harpooner?  Has Queequeg transformed in any way?  Finally, can you predict (without cheating!) what may become of Queequeg by the end of the novel?

17 thoughts on “English 329, “Queequeg in His Coffin”

  1. In earlier chapters, Queequeg was seen as the strong, savage one of the crew. He would jump into the waters to save another without a second thought while never letting go of his harpoon and Yojo. Within this chapter, “Queequeg in His Coffin,” we see the weak side of him. He is described by the other crewmates as “poor,” “civilized,” and “weak” in this state. I would say that Melville has been consistent with this character, but Queequeg’s lack of faith in his survival from the fever is kind of out of character for him. The real Queequeg wouldn’t have given into the sickness so easily (in my opinion). Luckily, Queequeg is back to his normal self by the end of the chapter, harpoon in hand ready for a fight. I would say Queequeg was more vulnerable in this chapter, but I wouldn’t say he transformed much of himself. I believe it is more about how the other crewmates saw him that really changed in this chapter; They saw his weak side that they are not used to. I predict that maybe we’ll see more of Queequeg’s weaknesses later on, maybe one he can’t shake out of and return back to normal from?

  2. I think in earlier chapters Queequeg seems to be one of the more reasonable characters and in my opinion more interesting because of how Melville introduces him. He is one of the calmer characters in the novel and seems to be one of the most human characters amongst the others. In chapter 110, when Queequeg falls ill I felt it had a lot more impact due to how Melville had previously written and developed this character. Towards the end of the chapter is it said that there is a difference between a civilized and a savage man when they are sick. A civilized man “may be six months convalescing and a sick savage is almost half well again in a day” (396). I thought this line was interesting especially in this chapter since Queequeg is consistently referred to as the savage man and he is known for being that kind of man. Queequeg’s reaction to falling ill and getting his own coffin and putting his possessions in it seemed a bit odd for his character but I don’t know that I didn’t expect him to not react this way. Although he is portrayed as strong and masculine, he also seemed to be pretty rational compared to other characters so I felt his reaction to falling ill was a little representative of both his growth throughout the novel as well as a reflection on how he was in the beginning. I believe Queequeg has transformed possibly in terms of others opinions of him. In the beginning when he is first introduced, he is a pretty intimidating character but as the story progresses characters such as Ishmael begin to realize he is much more than a “heathen.” His character evolves into a lot more than just being seen as a heathen or savage, he proves to be extremely useful on the ship and becomes a great friend to Ishmael. In terms of what I believe will happen in the end, I am not sure if I think he will die or not but I do believe that if he does his spirit or part of him will stay with Ishmael because of the relationship they’ve developed.

  3. Queequeg, in the beginning of the book, was seen as almost barbarous and terrifying, however, through out the progression of the novel, Ishmael finds a trustworthy friend in him. This turn of events makes Queequeg seem generous and of having good morals. Once Queequeg falls sick, this ultimately changes. Queequeg is now remarked as being “close to the very sill of the door of death” with every piece of him being “thinned, and his cheek-bones growing sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller” (393). These phrases show Queequeg in more of an almost alien version of himself. Melville romanticizes Queequeg’s dying body, while also showing how grotesque it is. The way that Queequeg is quick to give up during his illness is unlike him, as he seems to be a very optimistic and strong character. With this being said, however, I think the fact that he was to be buried with his harpoon brings his newly described transformation in tune with his roots. I think in the future Queequeg will use this near death experience to bring even more optimism into life and have a very positive attitude!

  4. Queequeg seems to be a character that defies expectation. Ishmael’s first impression of Queequeg was that he was almost like a monster. Initially, his descriptions of his features and mannerisms were aggressive and grotesque, however, Ismael soon finds a great “bosom friend” in him. Their relationship is often compared to that of a close partnership or marriage at times. (Sharing a bed, the monkey-rope,) Ismael’s perception of Queequeg changes throughout the chapters as he gets to know him, as anyone would upon spending a great amount of time with someone. Queequeg is a valuable member of the crew as a talented harpooner and even a savior when Tashtego falls into the water. Although Ishmael considers Queequeg a dear friend, he still describes him as “savage.” Queequeg exists as a positive source of the crew with his strong will and body. Overcoming his sickness was important to keep hope alive on the Pequod. (I also found it funny that Queequeg used his own coffin as a storage case.)
    I can imagine that Queequeg and Ishmael’s relationship will grow even stronger because of the turmoil they faced together on the seas, and then Queequeg will sacrifice himself somehow.

  5. Queequeg throughout the novel is calm-headed and well disciplined. He is shown to be very strong and reasonable, and his friendship with Ishmael continues to grow stronger giving off a sense of a dynamic duo. However, when analyzing the current chapter’s Queequeg to the previous ones, Queequeg still showcases his strength and discipline while providing a weaker side of him. Originally when Queequeg is introduced Melville goes into great detail describing his size and the power he must hold. Contrasting this to chapter 110 where Melville details Queequeg’s condition and how he is seemingly on death’s door. But Melville stays consistent with Queequeg because even when sick, Queequeg is calm and seemingly prepared to die showcasing his discipline. Also Queequeg manages to uses a type of mind over body to overcome his sickness and leap up in which Ishmael explains “So, in good time my Queequeg gained strength.” Queequeg has changed in a sense where for me it shows that even if he seems weak or grows ill, he still has this inner strength causing him to feel like a true force of nature. After this moment I think Queequeg is gonna gain a lot more respect on the ship and his relationship with Ishmael is gonna grow even more.

  6. I think that when Queequeg was first introduced he was meant to be offerente from the other men, a warrior. However, in Chapter 110, we are getting a glimpse of his more humane side. He is ill and is described as being near the “door of death.” He prepares for his death in acceptance, he does not appear to beg for life as he prepares his coffin and is ready to die. I think that for the most part that Melville was consistent, Queequeg prepared for his illness and accepted his fate, which is something that the Queequeg of previous chapter would participate in. His character development pertains to his mortality, in which he could have succumbed to the illness and died. I think that by the end Queequeg will continue to survive and will support Ishmael every way that is humanly possible.

  7. In the beginning Queequeg was portrayed as someone that is quite intimidating especially since he seemed so barbaric. Though a good quality that was mentioned in the beginning about Queequeg is his confidence since he was the most confident of all the seadogs. Overtime the Ishmael started really liking the thoughts Queequeg brought up since they were intriguing but also rational too. Queequeg has a very strong faith in his god and his religious beliefs which I believe provides him the resilience and level head he has. Ishmael and Queequeg’s bond soon enough increased to even where Ishmael had worried about him as a friend and also admired Queequeg even. In chapter 110, Queequeg was in a weaker state physically due to his sickness. This though did not portray him as weak since I believe he was actually portrayed as being stronger than we thought earlier since he embraces the idea of his death and even goes as far as getting a coffin made for himself. Also I believed Queequeg discovered who he actually is and what he actually wants out of life more due to embracing his death since he realized he didn’t need the coffin anymore since he wanted to finish some business before he actually dies. Due to his realization he found his inner strength even to keep moving forward to recover so he can finish the businesses he decided he wanted to complete before he passes away one day. I also believe by Queequeg keeping his coffin and just using it as a sea chest that he still has this level head within him since he doesn’t let the coffin create bad memories for him and keeps it despite it was something created during a time where he was in a weaker state than usual.

  8. Queequeg is described by Ishmael in the earlier chapters as an unusual character. A character that does not fit the typical stereotype of a savage foreigner. Ishmael spends a lot of time appreciating him for that reason: for his calm demeanor, his gentle giant kind of kindness and protectiveness, and for the confidence that resonates from him when he shares stories about his native homeland. But of course, it is all in contrast to what the white man would immediately judge him to be: a grizzly savage only good for labor. Even Ishmael had judged him to be so initially.
    Queequeg’s sickness, in my opinion, just added more depth to his already passionate personality. Queequeg has shown his commitment in many ways (whether it was his commitment to meditation and practice in his religion, protecting and travelling with Ishmael, rescuing the crewman who disrespected him).
    I believe this chapter is meant to act as another one of those eye-opening moments for Ishmael and the crew. These attempts to humanize and view Queequeg in a relatable way are absolutely consistent throughout the novel. It is another “in-awe” moment where Queequeg just does not fit the glove of a typical savage stereotype. Ishmael emphasizes Queequeg as a sick man, a man who is calm and “composed” (552) even in his passing (on the assumption that a white person’s attitude in this text would be that the typical wild barbaric would fight and do anything to merely survive). To that note, I do not believe Queequeg has transformed. To me, he is the most consistent character. If there has been a transformation, it may have been amongst the crew members and Ishmael. Although it is a double-edged sword: he may be a more respectable harpooner amongst the crew, but at what cost to his dignity? How many times does he have to prove his humanity to others?
    I fear something bad will happen to Queequeg, and Ishmael will live to feel some awful regret. A wild guess is that Queequeg will either die tragically (at no fault to anybody, but maybe nature herself) or Ishmael will betray him one way or another. Either way, I believe the readers are bound to feel some sympathy towards this character at the end of the novel. And the only way to create some sympathy is to create drama.

  9. Throughout the novel, Ishmael has grown fonder of Queequeg and comparing his tough exterior with a gentler interior, saying, “Savage though he was… his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart…” (57), Ishamel’s growing admiration throughout the book
    continues building at the point when Queequeg is sick and he was “crawling about amid that dampness and slime, like a green spotted lizard at the bottom of a well” and he was “close to the very sill of the door of death” (567). But, Queequeg decided he did not want to die and gaining his strength, “he suddenly leaped to his feet, threw out his arms and legs, gave himself a good stretching” and was good as new (571). Ishmael’s admiration is noted when he compares Queequeg to a “wondrous work in one volume” (572). Ishmael’s admiration is reflected in the respect and bond they have. I can imagine that at the end of the novel, Ishmael describes some of Queequeg’s life after the whaling trip and how they stay close or he goes on and does something good, but that’s me assuming the whaling trip will be over before the book is so I really do not know. I like Queequeg though, so I hope he lives through the book.

  10. Queequeg is often called a “savage” by his friend Ishmael. I do not believe that Ishmael meant this in any derogatory way, considering he is good friends with Queequeg, but states it as if that is just what he is. In this chapter, we see the weaker side of him, or the side the makes him human, something that we have seldom got in the beginning and middle of this book. Melville usually paints Queequeg to be this strong silent type kind of man. He is aloof from the other crew members because of his nature and his upbringing, but he is still respected as a harpooner. I do not think that Queequeg has necessarily “transformed” in any way considering he hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary for his character. We have seen him have human emotions when it comes to Ishmael and that he gets along with much of the crew, so I would say that Melville has written him consistently so far.
    Now, when I was a kid, I read an abridged version of Moby Dick intended for children, so I already know how the story ends (I was probably eight, but I still remember a bunch of the details, including the ending). That being said, and I won’t spoil anything, I think I would have predicted that Queequeg would die at the end of the book considering how the chapter is written. Queequeg says that no illness could kill him, but a “whale” or some terrible storm like that could. I know that that line would have raised my eyebrows had I not known how the story would end.

  11. In earlier chapters Queequeg is seen to be a calm character and one of the more civilized men. All though, when taking a first glance at him and seeing the tattoos that covered his body, it is thought that he was a ‘cannibal’ or even terrifying to look at. However, Queequeg has shown to be a valuable friend to Ishmael. He is also seen as strong since he has saved men from drowning twice. In chapter 110 Queequeg falls ill with a fever. This chapter starts to show his weaker and more vulnerable side, which is a paradox in his usual self. I do find it a bit odd that Queequeg had requested for a coffin to be made for him and that he put his possessions in it because he is seen such a strong character and it’s just not like him to give up like that. Then, I started thinking that health was not the best back in the 18th century, so maybe he knew that the chances of him surviving this illness wasn’t that great. Even a Long Island sailor stated “Ah! Poor fellow! He’ll have to die now.” It’s almost like people expected him to die from this fever as well. Overall, I do think Queequeg transformed through out the chapters. He is first seen as a savage or a heathen, but he proves himself to be an extremely useful person on the ship and turns out to be a good friend as well. I think that Queegueg will pull through this illness because he wanted to explore and experience the world and if he just dies that means he never got to accomplish that.

  12. When Queequeg is first introduced in the novel, the narrator is not very fond of him. He’s described in a dirty and intimidating way, but Queequeg’s character develops a lot through the novel. I think Queequeg was a symbol of being “different” because he’s referred to as a “savage” among the other men, even though our narrator ends up liking him after all. I think Melville has been consistent in describing his character even if the mood shifts a bit. I noticed he becomes less of a main character the more time the narrator spends on the ship, or maybe that’s just how I’m reading it because the other characters seem more interesting and I wonder if that is on purpose. I do think Queequeg has transformed. Especially in one part of this chapter, “now, there is this noteworthy difference between savage and civilised; that while a sick, civilised man may be six months convalescing, generally speaking, a sick savage is almost half-well again in a day” (396, end of chapter 110). This line stands out because it shows how Queequeg has developed from being seen as a savage to being more of a human and maybe even “civilised”. My prediction for the end of the novel is that, if Queequeg gets better and lives, he will be seen as more of an equal and less of a savage by everyone, including Ishmael. Although, I think Ishmael already thinks a bit higher of Queequeg in the way he says, “my poor pagan companion, and fast bosom-friend” (392) and “my Queequeg” (396). These ways of referring to him lead me to believe Ishmael thinks a little higher of him than he used to.

  13. The real transformation about Queequeg is not in his own character, it is in the perceptions of others. At the novel’s beginning, he was a novelty, the token “cannibal.” He is constantly described in words of being “a half-civilized savage,” almost a sort of cultural mutt. Ishmael only accepts him after Queequeg “proves” himself safe in Ishmael’s eyes, a challenge that the New Englander would not have posed to a white man. Once Queequeg becomes part of the crew, however, he becomes valuable beyond being an oddity. He is a legitimately good harpooner, given one of the top lays right off the bat due to his skill. Over the course of the book, Ishmael talks less about Queequeg the savage and more about Queequeg his friend. I think Melville has shifted focus off of Queequeg partially due to the expanding scope of the novel but to also emphasize how he is integrating into the crew, becoming simply another crewman instead of some brute to watch in a carnival show. I would comment on the end, but I have already read the book, so I will just say that what happens to Queequeg seems suitable based on the way his development is going.

  14. At the beginning of the novel, Queequeg, who is at first made out to be a “savage,” seems to be just an all-around good guy who quickly wins over the favor of the crew. He’s willing to jump in freezing water to save someone who, moments ago, insulted him; he’s willing to take on the dangerous and exhausting jobs on the ship, such as harpooning, and acting as the harpooner who stands on the whale’s back while it’s stripped of blubber. When it comes to strength, it seems as though this role as the harpooner defines him most; even when his strength is depleted from rowing and shouting, he still gets up and exerts superhuman effort just to throw his harpoon at the whale. This is why it seems so unlike Queequeg to just lay down and let illness ravage him, as it first seems in Chapter 110. I think that Queequeg, however, shows quiet strength in this chapter by accepting his death and embracing it rather than fighting it in vain (or at least, what he might think of as in vain). The illness serves to humanize Queequeg even more, by showing that not only is he a physically strong character, but a mentally strong one, as well. Therefore, it seems to me that Queequeg’s depiction is consistent; his personality is just revealed in different ways, at different times. As for what might happen to him near the end of the book, I would guess something tragic – maybe Queequeg trying to save someone else, or launching himself right into the middle of some action and getting hurt for it, leaving a psychological scar on Ishmael.

  15. Chapter 110 is a departure for Queequeg. Throughout most of the novel, he’s seen for his savage strength – a man willful enough to support his own worldview, who protects people within his perceived clan, and of someone physically capable enough to excell at the laborious duties on the ship. In Chapter 110, however, he becomes ill and asks for a coffin for him to die in, which betrays a loss of willpower and a weakness the cast and the reader has never seen before. This civilizes him in the eyes of the cast, and he’s no longer the exotic other that he was previously portrayed to be. A coffin is, to western audiences, seen as a western cultural artifact, something western audiences would not consider to be particularly exotic. This “Christian” practice (at least to western audiences), when combined with the symbology of Queerqueg’s tattoos put onto the piece, marries his culture and the western culture, civilizing him more. I believe that this coffin is a chekov’s gun – it must be used sometime in the future. Whether or not he dies and fills this coffin is anyone’s guess, but I believe that he will not survive the trip (or, perhaps antithetically, he will survive the trip because of the coffin and his acceptance of death).

  16. Despite knowing and seeing the build-up for what was to become of the ship itself and the members on board, the ending chapters really provided a shocking dramatic ending. Each death is symbolic- including the innocent bird flying in between Tashtego’s tool and the main-mast (maybe a symbol of themselves once innocent and then changed). Just as the omens were declared the two forms of death, in person and ship, embraced the concept of Ahab and his crew becoming so consumed with revenge and sin that they lost themselves. With them going down into water, whether initially drowning or not, they all hold relation to the concept of falling down as if going to hell. One overall idea I liked was the fact that they were unsure whether Moby was aware of what was going on or if he really was just an animal protecting himself. I think this keeps the idea that religion is based on belief and when one believes in any religion there is always a sense of distance in understanding.

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