Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Melville's Queequeg: "George Washington Cannibalistically Developed"

Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a novel full of great lines, sentences and even paragraphs that resonate either wittily, sensibly, or sentimentally (in the best and worst ways) long after the reading is done. Here's a simple sentence that I keep close at hand:

“You cannot hide the soul.”

Here’s the full passage from Chapter 10 -- "A Bosum Friend":

“With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul. 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. And besides all this, there was a certain lofty bearing about the Pagan, which even his uncouthness could not altogether maim. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor. Whether it was, too, that his head being shaved, his forehead was drawn out in freer and brighter relief, and looked more expansive than it otherwise would, this I will not venture to decide; but certain it was his head was phrenologically an excellent one. It may seem ridiculous, but it reminded me of General Washington’s head, as seen in the popular busts of him. It had the same long regularly graded retreating slope from above the brows, which were likewise very projecting, like tow long promontories thickly wooded on top. Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”

And from the next page, signaling Ishmael's shift from the opening pages "hypos," those feelings of violence and despair:

“I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it.”