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Literature Study GuidesMoby DickChapters 10 12 Summary

Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Chapters 10–12

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 10–12 of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick.

Moby-Dick | Chapters 10–12 | Summary



Ishmael returns to the Spouter Inn, where Queequeg is sitting by the fire. Ishmael decides to try to make friends with him, and they chat and smoke together. Back in their shared room, Queequeg shares his money with Ishmael and invites him to worship a small idol with him. As a Christian, Ishmael has misgivings about this, but he decides God will not be angry if he joins in. Afterward the two men talk in bed like good friends. Around midnight in Chapter 11, Ishmael and Queequeg are still cozy in the bed. They have been talking and napping on and off, and now they smoke together as Queequeg tells Ishmael about his native land.

In Chapter 12, Ishmael relates Queequeg's story: Queequeg's native island is called Kokovoko. He wanted to see the world, so he canoed to a place where he knew a ship would pass, and when it did he climbed aboard. The captain of the ship tried to throw him off, but this proved difficult and the captain relented, allowing Queequeg to stay aboard and learn how to be a harpooner. Ishmael listens to this story, then asks him what his plans are now. Queequeg says he plans to go back to sea as a harpooner, and Ishmael reveals that he is also planning to go to sea. They decide to go together.


With a head full of Father Mapple's rather emotional sermon, Ishmael comes back to the Spouter Inn to find his heathen acquaintance calmly whittling. As he watches Queequeg and considers his good qualities, he says, "I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it." It is interesting that he uses a term Christians use to talk about Christ—redeemed—to describe his reaction to Queequeg. He thus decides to "try a pagan friend ... since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy." Later he participates in Queequeg's worship of his little idol. All of these events suggest that Ishmael has a slightly different perspective on spiritual matters than Father Mapple, and they also show the growing friendship between Queequeg and Ishmael.

The two then stay up talking all night like kids at a slumber party. Queequeg's story reveals one of the reasons Ishmael may find him a "bosom friend": he is, like the biblical Ishmael, a sort of exile, not able to go back to his family. And like Melville's Ishmael, who is somewhat disillusioned with "Christian kindness," Queequeg has found that both Christians and pagans can be miserable, cruel people. Two young men, alone in the world, each find in the other a kindred spirit, and so they decide to go to sea together.

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