When in the Southern Fishery a captured Sperm Whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; is not very soon completed; and requires all hands to set about it. Therefore, the common usage is to take in all sail; lash the helm a'lee; and then send every one below to his hammock till daylight, with the reservation that, until that time, anchor-watches shall be kept; that is, two and two for an hour, each couple, the crew in rotation shall mount the deck to see that all goes well.
But sometimes, especially upon the Line in the
Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable
hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so
for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be
visible by morning. In most other parts of the ocean, however, where
these fish do not so largely abound, their wondrous voracity can be at
times considerably diminished, by vigorously stirring them up with sharp
whaling-spades, a procedure notwithstanding, which, in some instances,
only seems to tickle them into still greater activity. But it was not
thus in the present case with the Pequod's sharks; though, to be sure,
any man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that
night, would have almost thought the whole round sea was one huge
cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it.
Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when,
accordingly Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small
excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the
cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they
cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners,
darting their long whaling-spades,* kept up an incessant murdering of
the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly
their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and
struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this
brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe.
They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but
like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails
seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely
voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle
with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or
Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones,
after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and
hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost
took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid
of his murderous jaw.
*The whaling-spade used for cutting-in is
made of the very best steel; is about the bigness of a man's spread
hand; and in general shape, corresponds to the garden implement after
which it is named; only its sides are perfectly flat, and its upper end
considerably narrower than the lower. This weapon is always kept as
sharp as possible; and when being used is occasionally honed, just like a
razor. In its socket, a stiff pole, from twenty to thirty feet long, is
inserted for a handle.
"Queequeg no care what god made him
shark," said the savage, agonizingly lifting his hand up and down;
"wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be
one dam Ingin."
Again, Melville lapses into stereotype with Queequeg, making him talk pidgin English--the same kind of dialogue used by actors playing Native Americans on Bonanza and Rawhide. It reduces Queequeg from a fully realized character to the "savage" Melville's readers would expect. It's not surprising. No character with skin of any shade darker than white fares well in the book. This little chapter is simply a reflection of a larger social issue, one that has been a part of the United States since its inception.
I'm not going to spend this entire post ranting about racism or ageism or sexism or homophobia or Islamophobia. We can all agree--hopefully--that those problems are blights on the American landscape. What is on my mind this morning is the danger of social media in propagating these kinds of beliefs. For a computer savvy racist out there, it's not too difficult to splash offensive subject matter all across Facebook or Twitter. Stuff that flashes across the screens of smart phones and laptops, right into the minds of young people who are only beginning to understand the adult world.
I suppose that's the point. Get 'em while they're young. For example, when I was a kid, my exposure to pornography was limited to the magazines I would find under the mattresses of my brothers' beds. And it was pretty tame stuff, comparatively speaking. Now, hard core porn is only a computer click away. If a young boy can operate a mouse or has access to an iPhone, he can find just about anything he wants to see.
I know it's ironic that I'm writing about this subject in a blog post. I use social media a lot to connect to people, speak my mind, share poems I like. Yet, I can get sucked into the cesspool as much as anyone else. On Facebook, I will stop and read anything that is critical of Donald Trump and his cronies, because it validates feelings that already exist in me. (It doesn't help that the Trump administration has an agenda that is completely antithetical to my Christian faith and my values as a human being on this planet.)
Social media has always been a part of the human experience. First there were cave drawings. Stone tablets. Then bards wandering around, singing songs and telling stories. Papyrus. Theatrical plays. Pamphlets. Posters. Books. The Information Age has just made it a lot easier to spread messages (good and bad) across the globe. Social media can be useful (fundraisers for flood victims) or damaging (gatherings of Neo-Nazis). It all depends on who's using it.
I don't think Herman Melville was trying to further the cause of racism and colonialism with Moby-Dick. He was trying to write a book, and he was a product of his culture and time. As a parent in the 21st century, I find that I have to be really vigilant about what my kids see and watch on social media. Point out the flaws and mistakes in political posts. Discuss the harmful images of women and sex in pornography. Try to raise my children to be responsible citizens in the Digital Age. And, maybe, pass along a funny cat video every once in a while.
Saint Marty is thankful today for his kids, who usually think he's pretty cool.