Chapter 2 The Carpet-Bag

        In which Ishmael, "starting for Cape Horn and the Pacific" arrives in the New England seaport of New Bedford. It is a Saturday night in December, "a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless," necessitating that he lay over until Monday to catch "the little packet for Nantucket" -- a sea-going shuttle to the far-away island.

        He will not settle for a New Bedford whaleship! No, says he, "for my mind was made up to sail in no other than a Nantucket craft, because there was a fine, boisterous something about everything connected with that famous old island, which amazingly pleased me. Besides, though New Bedford has of late been gradually monopolizing the business of whaling, and though in this matter poor old Nantucket is now much behind her -- yet Nantucket was her great original."

        [Melville writes around 1850, after Nantucket's Great Fire of 1846, which completely wiped out the commercial section of town and warehouses full of whale oil, and severely damaged the wharves. However, the town was rebuilt in remarkably short order, but Nantucket's sinking whaling enterprise never recovered. Within a decade Nantucket whaling was dead -- only memories of the "palmy days", like Melville's, survive. Melville has a great deal to say about the stubborn, insular, xenophobic character of the Quakerish ship owners of Nantucket who watched the island sink into a deep economic depression between 1850 and the end of the Civil War.]

        Looking for cheap lodging, Ishmael walks dark and dreary streets through "blocks of blackness", but passes up "The Crossed Harpoons" and "The Sword-Fish" as "too expensive and jolly". Assuming the waterfront will prove more suitable to his meager pocketbook, he comes upon a smoky light from a door "invitingly open". He stumbles over an ash-box on the porch -- but, gaining entry, is surprised to see a hundred black faces like "the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet [hell]" and beyond "a black Angel of Doom" preaching in a pulpit about the "blackness of darkness". It was no lodging house, but a "negro" church. Calling it "The Trap", he withdraws from its "wretched entertainment" to continue his lonely search. [Here Melville has begun a skein of commentary on religion, which will thread an entangled course through the labyrinth of the ensuing chapters.]

        At long last, he settles for the forlorn-looking SPOUTER INN - PETER COFFIN proprietor. Musing that although "coffin" is an ominous sounding word, Peter Coffin would be a common name on Nantucket, and he assumes the proprietor to be removed from the island. Melville makes plays on the name "Coffin" throughout his book. A coffin in the form of a casket for a dead body will play an important role in the outcome of this account of the maniacal pursuit of a legendary white Whale of Doom known as MOBY DICK.