Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story

If you’re looking, “The Town-Ho’s Story” offers a lot of possible subtexts — religious, political, psychoanalytical, etc. I don’t think it’s unfair to look for or think about the chapter along any of these lines, though I think the imagery and language that suggests these subtexts really serves the larger and simpler purpose of Ishmael telling a good story.

Ishmael starts this chapter with the almost Homeric mission of putting his story “on lasting record,” and he tells this to his readers, wetting our lips with an implied wondrousness. Then, rather than just telling his story, he tells the story of telling his story to his friends in Lima years earlier, adding their credulous and interested voices to the audience, like a sitcom laugh track, or a shill at a game of three card monte. And though Ishmael uses plenty of Christ imagery in his story, suggesting religious subtext, it is easy to forget that the Bible is a book full of well-woven tales, and as such is a good place to study the art of storytelling, or for that matter, to borrow from.

By the end of the chapter, Ishmael has told such a fantastic story that I, for one, share Don Sebastian’s response to his friend Ishmael, “Then I entreat you, tell me if to the best of your own convictions, this your story is in substance really true? It is so passing wonderful!” And as Ishmael swears on a Bible that his story is true, in the audience of a priest no less, I don’t believe a word of it, but I decide to believe anyway, for the sake of the story.

Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story

In the conduit connecting the animal to nature,
Born and bred a wretched beast — the intellect abstracted.
Be it anchored in the heavens or deep into to soul,
It can move a mountain peak.

Ocean to ocean,
No contradiction meant
From motion to motion.
Take your position
And reside there forever!

Every act of violence punished by punishment’s creator.
Exorcise your will in peace.

Ocean to ocean,
A move towards democracy
From motion to motion.
Take your position
And reside there forever!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea November 1, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 6, 2010

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