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Moby-Dick | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Chapters 3–5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 3–5 of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick.

Moby-Dick | Chapters 3–5 | Summary



Ishmael enters the Spouter Inn. He is disappointed that there are no empty beds available, so he will have to share one with a harpooner who, the landlord tells him, is dark skinned and likes his steaks rare. After trying to sleep on a wooden bench, Ishmael decides to give sharing a bed a try and goes to the room. In the middle of the night, the harpooner finally comes in. His face and torso are covered in tattoos; he looks foreign and fierce. Ishmael is afraid, realizing the man is a South Seas cannibal. When the harpooner gets into bed, he is surprised to find Ishmael already there and begins to wave a weapon around. Ishmael calls Peter Coffin (landlord of the Spouter Inn) who introduces the harpooner as Queequeg. Coffin explains the situation and everyone goes back to bed.

In Chapter 4, Ishmael wakes up to find Queequeg's tattooed arm thrown over him in a warm, loving gesture. He is disconcerted at first, but his discomfort is replaced with a sense of how comical the situation is. When he wakes Queequeg up, the harpooner is similarly momentarily confused. Queequeg gets up and gets dressed, then shaves his face with his harpoon and leaves the room. In Chapter 5, Ishmael gets dressed himself and goes downstairs for breakfast with the other boarders. The others seem to be an interesting bunch, but they are strangely silent at breakfast. Ishmael is puzzled by their shyness and by Queequeg's way of eating using his harpoon. After breakfast Ishmael goes for a walk.


These chapters introduce Queequeg and revolve around the tension Ishmael feels because this mysterious harpooner is nowhere to be seen. It doesn't help that Peter Coffin seems to be deliberately withholding details about the absent harpooner. Ishmael is increasingly concerned about sharing a bed with the man, but his desire for comfort gets the better of him. The tension escalates when Queequeg actually comes into the room and, not realizing Ishmael is there, begins his bedtime rituals and tries to get into bed. Even the resulting confrontation is not enough to completely release the tension: in the morning, the men are both under the counterpane (quilt or bedspread), and Ishmael recalls a frightening episode from his early childhood. Queequeg's presence, however, seems to soothe Ishmael.

Ishmael watches Queequeg complete a series of mundane morning activities like getting dressed, shaving, and eating breakfast. The savage of the night before is now a comical man with a dented hat and a tendency to use his harpoon for everything. He shaves with it ("vigorous scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks") and serves himself breakfast with it. By the time breakfast is over, Ishmael's feeling toward Queequeg is one of amusement rather than fear, which is an important step in the development of their close friendship.

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