Ishmael watches as the preacher of the chapel, named Father Mapple and famous in New Bedford for his sermons, enters the chapel and climbs, using a ladder, onto the pulpit, which is shaped like the prow of a whaling ship. Ishmael remarks on the scene, which appears to separate Father Mapple from the rest of the congregation. There is also a picture of a little angel in the corner of the chapel, shining onto the pulpit with its radiant light. Ishmael closes this brief chapter by convincing himself that it is proper the chapel have a pulpit shaped like a boat, since the pulpit is the “prow of the world,” or the part of human society that leads man forward in time, against whatever storms or difficulties God, or life, or fate seem to toss at man.
Yet, despite Ishmael’s lack of reliance on religious teachings as the novel progresses, Ishmael nevertheless recognizes the power of religious rhetoric, and is here impressed by Father Mapple’s chapel, and by the particular architecture of the pulpit. Ishmael and many of the other sailors often use nautical imagery to describe things on land—as though their time on the ship becomes the primary metaphor for understanding the world around them. In this way, they sail through their lives just as a ship sails through danger in the open ocean.