Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick

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Moby-Dick Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ishmael and Queequeg come back to the ship the next morning, before sunrise, and intend to board for their journey, which they have heard will start that day. As they are climbing aboard, Elijah appears and stops them both, asking if they have seen the “four or five men” that just got on the vessel. Ishmael replies that he might have seen those men get on the boat, but he’s not concerned with them; when Elijah says that Ishmael will perhaps find out who those men are, later on, Ishmael wonders who these mysterious men could be. But he and Queequeg leave Elijah and board the vessel, not seeing the “four or five men” at all.
An important prophecy. Of course, these five men will become the five-person “tiger crew” of Ahab’s whale-boat. It is important to the captain that, like himself, they do not appear until the ship is long underway. Perhaps Ahab fears that this crew will be feared and loathed by other members of the Pequod—and in this, he is correct. Or perhaps he wants his “tiger crew” to be well-rested for the hunt for Moby Dick. But either way this subterfuge hints that the "fellowship" of the voyage, each sailor with his own share, is being undermined by the "tyrant" Ahab.
Themes
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Nature and Man Theme Icon
Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement Theme Icon
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Ishmael and Queequeg do see a light on below-decks, however, and go down to find a “rigger” (a man rigging the boat for its journey) asleep there. Queequeg sits on the man’s rear end (a custom in his country, he explains to Ishmael), and the two men share the tomahawk-pipe as the rigger sleeps. Finally, the rigger stirs and asks if Ishmael and Queequeg will be sailing on the Pequod. They say they will, and they go up above-decks with the rigger, hearing that Starbuck, the ship’s chief mate, is there, and that Ahab is still secluded in his cabin on the ship—no one has yet seen him.
Another important and ancillary point, related to the preparations of the Pequod, are the sheer number of specialized jobs available for men aboard a whale-ship. Here, the “rigger”’s primary task is simply to put the boat in shape for the beginning of its journey; later, while on the open seas, the members of the crew will be asked to maintain this order. The rigger is joined by the likes of the ship’s carpenter, its blacksmith, and its cook, all of whom will appear later. Men's roles define them on a ship, just as they do in society.
Themes
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Race, Fellowship, and Enslavement Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon