As we were walking down the end of the wharf towards the ship, Queequeg carrying his harpoon, Captain Peleg in his gruff voice loudly hailed us from his wigwam, saying he had not suspected my friend was a cannibal, and furthermore announcing that he let no cannibals on board that craft, unless they previously produced their papers. "What do you mean by that, Captain Peleg?" said I, now jumping on the bulwarks, and leaving my comrade standing on the wharf.
"I mean," he replied, "he must show his papers."
"Yes," said Captain Bildad in his hollow voice, sticking his head from behind Peleg's, out of the wigwam. "He must show that he's converted. Son of darkness," he added, turning to Queequeg, "art thou at present in communion with any Christian church?"
"Why," said I, "he's a member of the first Congregational Church." Here be it said, that many tattooed savages sailing in Nantucket ships at last come to be converted into the churches.
"First Congregational Church," cried Bildad, "what! that worships in Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman's meeting-house?" and so saying, taking out his spectacles, he rubbed them with his great yellow bandana handkerchief, and putting them on very carefully, came out of the wigwam, and leaning stiffly over the bulwarks, took a good long look at Queequeg.
"How long hath he been a member?" he then said, turning to me; "not very long, I rather guess, young man."
"No," said Peleg, "and he hasn't been baptized right either, or it would have washed some of that devil's blue off his face."
"Do tell, now," cried Bildad, "is this Philistine a regular member of Deacon Deuteronomy's meeting? I never saw him going there, and I pass it every Lord's day."
"I don't know anything about Deacon Deuteronomy or his meeting," said I; "all I know is, that Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is."
"Young man," said Bildad sternly, "thou art skylarking with me- explain thyself, thou young Hittite. What church dost thee mean? answer me."
Finding myself thus hard pushed, I replied, "I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands."
"Splice, thou mean'st splice hands," cried Peleg, drawing nearer. "Young man, you'd better ship for a missionary, instead of a fore-mast hand; I never heard a better sermon. Deacon Deuteronomy- why Father Mapple himself couldn't beat it, and he's reckoned something. Come aboard, come aboard: never mind about the papers. I say, tell Quohog there- what's that you call him? tell Quohog to step along. By the great anchor, what a harpoon he's got there! looks like good stuff that; and he handles it about right. I say, Quohog, or whatever your name is, did you ever stand in the head of a whale-boat? did you ever strike a fish?"
Without saying a word, Queequeg, in his wild sort of way, jumped upon the bulwarks, from thence into the bows of one of the whale-boats hanging to the side; and then bracing his left knee, and poising his harpoon, cried out in some such way as this:-
"Cap'ain, you see him small drop tar on water dere? You see him? well, spose him one whale eye, well, den!" and taking sharp aim at it, he darted the iron right over old Bildad's broad brim, clean across the ship's decks, and struck the glistening tar spot out of sight.
"Now," said Queequeg, quietly, hauling in the line, "spos-ee him whale-e eye; why, dad whale dead."
"Quick, Bildad," said Peleg, his partner, who, aghast at the close vicinity of the flying harpoon, had retreated towards the cabin gangway. "Quick, I say, you Bildad, and get the ship's papers. We must have Hedgehog there, I mean Quohog, in one of our boats. Look ye, Quohog, we'll give ye the ninetieth lay, and that's more than ever was given a harpooneer yet out of Nantucket."
So down we went into the cabin, and to my great joy Queequeg was soon enrolled among the same ship's company to which I myself belonged.
When all preliminaries were over and Peleg had got everything ready for signing, he turned to me and said, "I guess, Quohog there don't know how to write, does he? I say, Quohog, blast ye! dost thou sign thy name or make thy mark?
But at this question, Queequeg, who had twice or thrice before taken part in similar ceremonies, looked no ways abashed; but taking the offered pen, copied upon the paper, in the proper place, an exact counterpart of a queer round figure which was tattooed upon his arm; so that through Captain Peleg's obstinate mistake touching his appellative, it stood something like this:-
his X mark.Melville is indulging in some comedy here again, mostly at the expense of Peleg and Bildad. The two captains hold Queequeg suspect because of his tattoos and color of his skin. They must somehow be assured that Queequeg has abandoned his pagan ways and converted to Christianity. I suppose they want to be confident that they don't hire a cannibal who is going to (one-by-one) consume the other members of the ship's crew. Of course, the fact that Peleg can't even get Queequeg's name right ("Quohog" is very near to the "quahog," which is, according to Dictionary.com, a "large, rounded edible clam of the Atlantic coast of North America").
The biggest joke of the passage is that Queequeg is a very experienced whaler, and the two owners of the Pequod fall all over themselves trying to hire him, even offering him a larger stake in the profits of the voyage. Christianity goes right out the window when it comes to money.
I suppose it's all about judging a person by appearance. Queeqeug is dark-skinned with pointed teeth. He's covered in tattoos from head to foot. He carries a harpoon wherever he goes and sells shrunken human heads. Not to mention the little wooden idol that he worships. All these things mark him as questionable. In the United States today, Queequeg would have been picked up and deported by the FBI a long time ago. He wouldn't have lasted one week in Trump America.
I've been thinking about otherness quite a bit today. I think we all have a little bit of Queequeg in us. I know I do. In my family, I pretty much stand out like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. I teach at a university and write poetry. I'm very liberal-minded in a family of conservatives. I think my dad voted for a Democrat for President just once in his life--John F. Kennedy. I'm a musician and performer. Directed a few musicals in my years, as well. Totally comfortable in a crowd of theater geeks and artists.
If there are such things as past lives, I think I could have been Charles Dickens. I've always been drawn to his writing and life. I have a 1200-page biography of Dickens on my bookshelf. Every year or so, I reread it. I stopped counting how many times I've made my way through its pages. Well over eight or nine times. Dickens was an actor and writer. He had a huge family, but he didn't really "fit in." Had a complicated relationship with his dad. Was passionate and driven in everything he did. He existed on the fringe of normal, but he was well-loved by everyone who knew him.
Charles Dickens was a Queequeg. Tonight, after I'm done with these blog posts, I have to finalize my plans for a poetry workshop that I'm leading tomorrow night. After that, I think I may work on a new poem. Tomorrow afternoon, I'm meeting someone from the university where I teach. We are planning a poetry reading for the month of April. Poet Laureate stuff.
It's not so bad being a little Queequeg-ish. As a matter of fact, it allows me quite a bit of freedom. I don't have to live up to anyone's expectations. Instead, I create my own expectations. Success for other people may be a large bank account. Vacations twice a year. A nice car. Nice house. Right now, I'd say that my idea of success would be publishing a collection of Bigfoot poems.
Different expectations, yet I will put my X mark on the world. Just like Queequeg.
Saint Marty is thankful this evening for everything that makes him different.