Ishmael and Queequeg arrive in Nantucket with no further misadventure. Ishmael fills this brief chapter with a rhapsody on the nature of Nantucket, where, as the story goes, a small Native American boy was once carried by a bird, and where his family went after to find him, and settled, thus founding the town. Nantucket is now almost entirely a port for whaling and fishing, and Ishmael remarks that, although the great colonial powers of the earth seek far and wide for land to add to their empires, Nantucket “controls two-thirds of the world” because its denizens control the seas, and make their money in pursuit of “walruses and whales.”
This one of the earliest of Melville’s, and Ishmael’s, fugues: short chapters on a theme unrelated to the general narrative thrust of the novel. Here, Ishmael takes a moment to underscore just how important Nantucket is to the whaling industry and to the economy of the US in the 1800s. Ishmael’s tone, characteristic throughout, is one of emphasis, and of great rhetorical rigor—in this chapter alone, he uses rhetorical questions, repetition, and other devices of ancient Greek and Roman rhetoric (or persuasive speaking) to convince the reader of his point.