Their relationship develops like the plot of a modern rom-com. Thrown together by fate at the Spouter’s Inn, where they have no choice but to spend the night together, Ishmael is repulsed by his bedmate at first. But soon he finds himself intrigued by Queequeg’s tats, his “bald purplish head,” and his nighttime routine, which includes saying prayers to a wooden idol.
By morning Ishmael discovers Queequeg’s arm “wrapped around me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife.” Almost? He “hugged me tightly, as though not but death should part us twain.”
Ishmael attempts to “unlock his bridegroom’s grasp.” He’s not that easy, after all. He has to be wooed and won. In every love story one partner is always a little reluctant. Otherwise the story would be over in ten minutes.
Ishmael begins to observe Queequeg with increasing interest. After attending the sermon at the Whaleman’s Chapel, Ishmael finds Queequeg back at the Spouter’s Inn, where he is paging through a book. He reaches only to page 50, which, coincidentally, is about how far the Classics Slacker is in Moby-Dick. Whoo-hoo! Only 459 pages to go!
But back to our lovers. Ishmael gazes upon Queequeg surreptitiously, “half-pretending” that he’s just looking out the windows. “Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart; and in his large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold, there seemed tokens of a spirit that would dare a thousand devils.” This guy is clearly falling in love. Indeed, just a page later, Ishmael confesses: “I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me.”
What follows is a typical lovers’ montage: Ish and QQ overcoming their language barrier, smoking in bed together (Ishmael no longer cares about the risk), taking little naps (Queequeg “now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine”), eating cozy dinners for two, discussing religion, more smoking in bed.
All this time in bed leads naturally to pillow talk. And so, Queequeg tells Ishmael his life story. Turns out, ta-da!, he’s not just a regular old cannibal. He’s the son of a king! Ishmael’s prince has come.
And so, the two are wed. “He pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married.” Afterward they engage in the most intimate act a couple can share: divvying up their money. “He drew out some thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one of them towards me, and said it was mine.”
The Classics Slacker almost dropped her Kindle when she read this. She adores her husband, but she still has a separate bank account.
At last Queequeg and Ishmael sail for Nantucket—sort of a honeymoon cruise. On the ship Queequeg dives into the water to save a jerk who goes overboard. That seals the deal for Ishmael. It’s a real turn-on to see your beloved risk his life in a brave rescue, and with such humility: “He did not seem to think that he at all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies.” Ishmael is permanently smitten. “From that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle.”
If only they really could marry. The captain could do the honors, finishing the ceremony with: “I hereby pronounce you Cannibal and Barnacle.”