Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Explain the biblical allusion to Ishmael.

2. What does Ishmael do whenever he finds himself growing “grim about the mouth”?

3. What does Ishmael mean by a “substitute for pistol and ball”?

4. What proof does Ishmael offer that others feel the same as he does about the sea?

5. What is some of the “magic” which water performs for men?

6. How did the Greeks and the Persians perceive the sea?

7. How did Narcissus die?

8. Other than not having the money, why does Ishmael never go to sea as a passenger?

9. How does Ishmael explain his willingness to be ordered around?

10. What are Ishmael’s chief motives in going whaling?

Answers
1. The biblical Ishmael was banished by Abraham. Melville’s Ishmael is also set adrift.

2. Ishmael goes to sea.

3. Going to sea is the substitute for “pistol and ball,” by which he means shooting himself.

4. “Leagues” of people from all over are drawn to the shore and need to get as close to the water as they can.

5. Water puts men into states of reverie and unites them. It draws them into deep thought.

6. The Persians saw the sea as being holy; the Greeks saw it as powerful enough to have its own god.

7. Narcissus drowned when he plunged toward his reflection in the water.

8. They get sick, can’t sleep, and don’t enjoy themselves.

9. Ishmael says that in the grand scheme of things we are all “thumped” around either physically or mentally.

10. The idea of the whale is Ishmael’s chief motive.