Herman Melville

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Moby-Dick: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Ishmael rises and sees Peter Coffin the next morning—although he is a little embarrassed at having been tricked by Coffin into sharing a room with a cannibal (and one who turned out to be utterly harmless), Ishmael tells the reader that it is important to take a joke well, and to be able to laugh at oneself. Ishmael goes in to breakfast with other whalers and sailors staying at the Spouter Inn—some of whom have just come back from long sea-voyages. Although Ishmael expects that these “old salts” will talk loudly and willingly of their lives on the open ocean, Ishmael is instead shocked to find that the breakfast is largely silent, and that the whalers, though they have probably done brave deeds, have very little to say for themselves. Ishmael notes that Queequeg eats a strange breakfast of beefsteaks, “cooked very rare,” which he lances with his harpoon. That implement seems never to leave his side.
An example of Ishmael’s expectations about whaling, and the realities of the lifestyle that are in fact quite different. Ishmael perhaps wonders why all whalers aren’t like the carousers aboard the Grampus, who stomp onto shore, demanding alcohol and speaking loudly of their triumphs. But Ishmael also detects a darker side to whaling—perhaps a recognition that the job is particularly dangerous, that men are often lost, and that the reality of life on the open water is one of privation, loneliness, and long separation from land. Queequeg, for his part, seems to have no problem with the apparent silence of the other whalers.
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