Chapter 5: Breakfast

The morning after his first night with Queequeg, Ishmael sits down to breakfast at a table full of whalemen. Ishmael first notices the differing shades of each man’s skin as a reflection of each man’s travels — a darker hue reveals a recent return from an “Indian voyage,” while subsequently lighter shades denote more and more time spent at home. The whalemen at Ishmael’s table are markedly changed, but only temporarily. The passage of time returns each man’s skin to its original color.

Ishmael expects a breakfast full of colorful tales about whaling, since “men who have seen the world, thereby become . . . quite self-possessed in company.” Instead, Ishmael finds the men eating in awkward and “embarrassed” silence. He compares his table-mates’ demeanor with that of men who have travelled through Siberia or starved in the jungles of Africa — turned inward and away from society.

By contrast, Queequeg sits at the head of the table “as cool as an icicle,” harpooning raw beefsteaks with a “genteel” manner. Queequeg’s skin is permanently tattooed with many “contrasting climates” all at once. In the previous chapter, we see Queequeg as a patchwork of cultures, and perhaps that is a telling key to his cool gentility. Does the “social polish” of travel come from an adaptability, an ability to be fundamentally changed by new experiences? For these whalers of European descent, I wonder if that adaptability would hold true in European travels, unlike in their frequent travels to “exotic” locales. Perhaps the whole idea of some travels being harder than others, and the inward-turning that results, really just reflects an ethnocentric stubbornness.

Chapter 5: Breakfast

You’ve travelled the world and the eastern seas.
You’ve travelled the world.
You’re made of the great human melodies
From all over the world.

And you’d think it’s a matter of deepest sympathy
To be out in the world,
But then you run, run
From the great menagerie —
You haven’t a word!

You’ve sailed in time to the harshest breeze,
All over the world.
You’ve never been graced with a luxury,
And never preferred.
But then you run, run
From the great menagerie —
You haven’t a word!


And you’d think it’s a matter of deepest sympathy
To be out in the world,
But you’re turning
Inward, baby, take your time —
You’re out in the world!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 6, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea January 18, 2009

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