The narrator sees stars and comets above him and figures he must be dreaming. He keeps hearing a gong sound. Suddenly, the narrator catches his breath and opens his eyes. He realizes he’s on a ship at sea and the gong sound is in fact a frying-pan hanging on the wall.
The narrator’s hallucinations, particularly the lights, suggest that he is near death. The seriousness of this scene deflates, however, when the narrator realizes the gong sound is only a frying pan. This shows how the narrator’s time at sea will challenge and puncture many of his high ideas (he is a literary critic.)
Two men are kneeling over the narrator. One is a Scandinavian-looking man named Johnson (called “Yonson” by the other man), who has been rubbing the narrator’s chest to revive him. The other is a Cockney and the ship’s cook. The narrator asks for new clothes and asks where he is. Johnson tells him he's on a vessel called the Ghost, which is headed toward Japan to go seal-hunting. The narrator then asks to see the captain.
“Cockney” refers to a person from East London—it typically describes a working-class person and with a distinctive accent. Being at sea places the narrator in contact with people from whom his privileged background would usually separate him.
Johnson and the cook (whose name is Thomas Mugridge) give the narrator new clothes that smell awful. Johnson remarks that the narrator has soft skin and must be a gentleman. The narrator is a little offended at the smelly clothes and the crew members’ poor hospitality.
The novel makes repeated reference to the narrator’s soft skin, often in contrast to the sailors’ calloused hands. Because the narrator hasn’t worked with his hands like the sailors, his body is more vulnerable. The narrator’s soft, vulnerable physique reflects his psychological softness and lacking survival skills.
The narrator spots the man that saw him in the sea and rescued him. The man is 5’ 10” but strongly built. He looks powerful just pacing around. It turns out his man is the captain: Wolf Larsen. Near the captain is another man who is on his back and dying. The dying man passes away, and Wolf Larsen swears at him. The narrator is shocked to see the captain treat death so casually.
Earlier, Wolf Larsen saved the narrator’s life with a glance, and now he seems to look death in the face and swear at it instead of being afraid. The narrator builds up a picture of Wolf as someone who is almost superhuman and feels unthreatened by mortal fears. the narrator’s first impression of Wolf reflects the immense power that Wolf Larsen wields over his crew.