Moby Dick Read-A-Long Chapters 16-30: Starbucks, Ahoy!

Moby Dick Read-A-Long

Ishmael and Queequeg take a back seat as we meet The Pequod and her crew. Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.

Lost at sea? For all the details on this read-a-long, including schedule and sign up, click here.

Chapters 16-30

  • America, Fuck Yeah: This is embarrassing, but I thought Moby Dick was a British novel until very recently. Like, basically until I started reading it. I *know,* great American novel, right? I had to keep reminding my self in the first few chapters that we’re in New York, not London. I don’t know where I got this idea, but it was hard to shake… now that we’re a ways in, I’m finally seeing this as an American novel. The owners of the Pequod are Quakers, and that’s pretty American. So is Ishmael’s description of these whaling Quakers:

They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.

  • Starbucks, Ahoy: The other thing that’s reminding me this is an American novel is that Starbucks is named for the Pequod’s first mate, Starbuck.  Figures that the month I decide to give up lattes is the month I will be reading Starbuck over and over and over again.
  • Billions of blistering blue barnacles!

    Loving the nautical talk!

    Ahab in the House: Melville sure likes to build anticipation. In the first 15 chapters, I was wondering if we’d ever get on the boat. Over the next 10 or so, I wonder where the heck Ahab is. Is he really ill, but almost better, as Ishmael is told? Or is it something more sinister? What’s he hiding? We finally meet Ahab near the end of this section, and much is made of his strange birthmark and other physical characteristics. The first time we hear him speak, he calls one of his mates “ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass,” and in the next chapter, abruptly throws his pipe overboard as smoking no longer gives him any pleasure. Hmm. Something on your mind, there, Big A?

  • Ishmael’s AWOL: I felt Ishmael’s absence in this section, as he steps back into a more traditional narrator role. I got to thinking about his motivation for taking part in the voyage in the first place. Ishmael presents it as basically his wanting to see the world, and having nothing better to do. YOLO, if you will. Or should I say YOJO? (Nailed it!) I hope we get back into Ishmael’s head soon.
  • Pre-Post-Modern: This section has a couple of passages that could fit in a postmodern novel, despite being written before postmodern, or even modern, was a thing. First, there are some structural oddities, like two chapters called “Knights and Squires,” which I thought was a Kobo fail at first. My favourite chapter so far, and the most “postmodern” in this section, is The Advocate, in which Ishmael turns away from the action to rant about the “injustice hereby done to us hunters of whales.”  He gives examples of arguments against whaling and skewers them. He really gets worked up. 

No dignity in whaling? The dignity of our calling the very heavens attest. Cetus is a constellation in the south! No more! Drive down your hat in the presence of the Czar, and take it off to Queequeg!

Tune in Next Week: Everything you wanted to know about whales but were too afraid to ask.

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Actually I thought the short chapters would be helpful:

Check out this great comment from Heather on last week’s post, about Ishmael and Queequeg:

As far as the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg, I like how Melville used language about marriage and love to describe their friendship. We discussed this in an American Lit college course I took, and we came to the conclusion that we have to be careful about simplifying this too much. Theirs is a very deep, connected friendship, but not really in anyway sexual. To get hung up on the what we see as a potential sexual side to their relationship (not that I’m saying you’re doing this at all) is to miss out on how special/tight their friendship is.

What did you think of this section? Link to your blog post below and drop me a line in the comments.



  1. Pingback: Moby Dick Read-A-Long: Sign Up! | Reading in Bed
  2. Heather

    I had no idea that Starbucks is named after Starbuck. Thank you for that bit of trivia!

    Ahab is definitely a curiosity at this point. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and because I’ve read this before I won’t say too much about it here. But I remember wondering when I first read it if maybe Ahab had a touch of Seasonal Depression. He seems to come out of his shell a bit (both figuratively and literally) as they sail into warmer weather, and that is something I can relate to.

    I’m also remembering how much I like Queequeg. I get a good laugh out of him throwing his harpoon just over everyone’s heads to prove he is a good shot. Haha! I can always imagine the mixture of fear and surprise on their faces. Good stuff.

  3. lauratfrey

    Oh, I thought the Starbucks thing was something everyone knew. Or that Americans knew, anyway. I feel better now 🙂 Apparently the owners (two of whom were English majors, I believe) almost named it Pequod – can you imagine?

    I noticed the seasonal thing too. Hard to know how much is symbolism and how much is psychological, though I suppose it can be both.

  4. jaynesbooks

    Like you, I was wondering where was Ahab, but it was nice to finally be introduced to the main characters and I am curious to see how its all going to play out. I did find that the section seemed to drag a little bit, but I am kinda hoping that it picks up in the next section. And yes, Knights and Squires is the title of two chapters that were back to back and you weren’t dreaming.

    • lauratfrey

      I found this section pretty quick to read. I got way ahead of myself, and I’m slowing down a bit now.

      I’m really curious about the two Knights and Squires chapters. I mean, I get the reference, but why two chapters? They’re short, too, why not combine it into one?

      • jaynesbooks

        Maybe it has to do with the fact that he thought of it as a two parter chapter. I don’t know why didn’t combine it into one chapter. It was a pretty quick section to read and I think every section of this book is going to be pretty quick to read, as most of the chapters are pretty short, despite the book’s length.

      • lauratfrey

        Yeah, unless there are some majorly long/slow chapters ahead, I don’t get why this book is so scary. I’ll probably want to knock on wood as I type that 🙂

  5. Caitlin

    I struggled on reading for this bit, but I am pleased to say I am not only keeping up, but ahead of the boyfriend. yes! i found this section was really dull and because of this, I glazed over some of it. I think I missed some bits! Ahab reminds me of a bad boss.. Never around when you need him and when he does show up, only wants to do what he wants regardless of the fact that it benefits no one but his ego. He seems a little unstable. I am hoping it is set up for something entertaining to come!

  6. lauratfrey

    I’m reading at lunch too 🙂

    I’m thinking the same thing. I get the mates confused – Starbuck, Stubb, Flask. Usually this only happens to me when I’m reading a translation with foreign and unfamiliar names. These names are easy, and even easy to visualize, so I don’t know what’s up!

  7. emmawolf

    “‘I’ll have no man on my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful form of courage was that which arises from a fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”

    This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s really been my mantra for preparing for things that I am scared of/make me nervous (I hate public speaking, but I’m an attorney). It tells me that it’s ok to be nervous about something and that the best way to get over it is to know what I’m up against.

  8. Brie @ Eat Books

    Well, hello there! So. I’m starting to catch up (I think), but my reading has really slowed down – not so much because I’m not enjoying this book, I’m just finding I’m going days without reading anything! Must. Fix. This.

    I miss Ishmael’s narration, too. And I miss Queequeg! And their bromance (even if they are nothing more than BFFs).

    Also, I had no idea about the Starbuck naming thing. And I’m really glad they went with Starbucks and not Pequod like wikipedia tells me they originally wanted to!

  9. Pingback: Reading Roundup: June 2013 | Reading in Bed

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