Chapter 18: His Mark

The last image of “His Mark” sticks with me as representative of the whole chapter. Captain Bildad walks the Pequod’s deck, picking up stray sail patches or bits of “tarred twine,” to save the waste. He doesn’t sweep and save all the scraps, just the ones, I guess, that strike his fancy. In doing so, Bildad acts out the final echo of a selective salvation that threads throughout the entire chapter.

A clever double meaning lies in the title of “His Mark.” The title certainly refers to the mark on Queequeg’s arm, which he copies as a signature when he signs on as a member of the Pequod’s crew. The title also refers to the mark of salvation that God leaves on the souls of converts. After signing Queequeg on as crew, Bildad attempts to convert Queequeg to Christianity, and he is met with intense protest from Captain Peleg. Peleg recounts a story of a man who was once the best harpooneer in Nantucket. The man “joined the meeting,” and lost his will as a harpooneer, because he worried so greatly about spiritual repercussions of his vocation. Peleg does not want to “ruin” another great harpooneer with the mark of God on his conscience. And so Queequeg is not privy to a choice that Bildad and Peleg deem essential to all other men.

It seems a horrifying usury, a devilish contract of morality signed over not in blood but in the very text of Queequeg’s flesh. But that explanation doesn’t quite fit, since Queequeg doesn’t compromise anything in the transaction, let alone his morality. As Christian believers, on the other hand, Bildad and Peleg implicate themselves in moral corruption through their hypocrisy — they are their own devils, asking Queequeg to give up his soul for money. Queequeg negates their damnation for himself by not writing the other half of the story — I get the sense that Queequeg is so far out of the story that he doesn’t even realize the possible subtext to his actions. Concerns of moral relativism aside for the moment, Peleg’s storied harpooneer and Queequeg both make perfect sense to me — they live by their beliefs. But why do Bildad and Peleg write themselves into a moral narrative wherein they intend to commit such great evil?

Chapter 18: His Mark

Harpoon the mast,
And sign those papers fast!
Old Peleg’s sharp —
Had Quohog make his mark.

Signed a charm
That was tattooed on his arm
And now he’s with the crew,
Despite that devil’s blue.

Young cannibal,
Your hell awaits in full.
Avast ye, man!
A harpooneer’s not a man

To be saved
Laying whales in their graves —
Give to darkness now,
Standing in the prow.

You could never do it so well,
Knowing Jesus sees it.

Religion’s fine,
And death will come in time,
But pious men,
They lose the shark in them.

Made His mark
In the everlasting dark
Found in every man
With harpoon in hand.

You could never do it so well,
Knowing Jesus sees it.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 28, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea December 30, 2008

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Fantastic project. My blog is named after Chapter 115, but being a graduate of Nantucket High School, how can’t I resist Chapter 14? And I suppose this is a blog-gam….


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