No Explanation Needed

The deed is done. Queequeg and Ishmael are finally, after 95 pages, ON THE BOAT. Bildad’s sister has packed the crew’s lunches, sewed their names into their underwear, supplied them with toilet paper, toothpaste, and, almost certainly, condoms. “She seemed resolved that, if she could help it, nothing should be found wanting on the Pequod, after once fairly getting to sea.” Ishmael has been warned, several times, by a creepy soothsayer (what other kind is there?) not to go. But he ignores the dude, dismissing him as a “humbug, trying to be a bugbear.” (At least he’s ambitious.) He hasn’t yet laid eyes on Captain Ahab, but figures, hey, how bad can he be? Anchors aweigh!

Not so fast. At this point Ishmael feels compelled to explain to his long-suffering readers—who’ve really only begun to suffer—why whalemen are just the best. And he means to take five pages to do it.

Really, Ishmael, please don’t. (The Classics Slacker has taken to talking to him out loud.) No need to explain. Can you please just continue the story?

No, he says (he’s taken to talking back as well), I’m going to tell you and I’m going to tell you good. Now listen up.

People call whalemen butchers, Ishmael says. True, there is a lot of blood involved. But at least we clean up after ourselves. In fact, whaling ships are “among the cleanliest things of this tidy earth.” Much cleaner than battlefields. And what do soldiers give you, anyway? he asks. Just a lot of dead guys. Whalemen, on the other hand, give you oil for your lamps. We light up your life. We give you hope, to carry on. We light up your days, and fill your nights, with, song! He’s gone all Debby Boone on us.

Besides, he continues, bringing y’all lamp oil is just one service we whalemen provide. We’ve done so much other good stuff that I’m not even going to try to tell you about them. “It would be a hopeless, endless task to catalogue all these things,” he declares. But by now we all know Ishmael can’t be trusted.

We’ve charted uncharted territories, he begins. We’ve fed starving Australians, brainwashed pagan Polynesians, tamed Japanese savages, and liberated Peruvians, Chileans, and Bolivians.

Now, Ishmael says, have I convinced you yet that we are awesome? Yes, Ishmael, you had us at “clean.” He doesn’t believe us. In fact, he’s threatening to clock us: “But if, in the face of all this, you still declare that whaling has no aesthetically noble associations connected with it, then am I ready to shiver fifty lances with you there, and unhorse you with a split helmet every time.”

At this point, the Classics Slacker has left the room. So Ishmael debates himself. He actually throws down a series of charges against whalemen and/or whaling and repudiates them one by one. “Whaling not respectable? Whaling is imperial!” And: “No dignity in whaling! The dignity of our calling the very heavens attest.”

And so on. By the fourth or fifth one, he’s worked himself up into such a lather that he’s about to punch himself in the face. He’s never been more pissed off at himself.

Finally he says, I’m not listening to myself anymore. This conversation is over. Except, it’s not. See next chapter: “Seriously, No Explanation Needed.”