Chapter 3 The Spouter-Inn

        An unusually long chapter in which Ishmael gives his impressions of the Spouter Inn, landlord Peter Coffin, and Coffin's sea-going, whaling clientele who are "examining by a dim light divers specimens of skrim-shander [scrimshaw]". Upon the wall there hung a corkscrewed harpoon, "flung in Javan seas, having travelled full forty feet" within the body of a whale; and a lance with which Nathan Swain "did kill fifteen whales between a sunrise and sunset fifty years ago."

        Melville makes mention of an unusual sailor in the company -- one Bulkington -- a brawny, handsome, bashful Southerner. When his shipmates, for whom he was "a huge favorite for some reason", discover he has left the inn, they rush out after him crying, "Bulkington! Where's Bulkington?" The reader encounters Bulkington once more in a later chapter [23] -- at the helm of a whaleship. Melville uses this man as the symbol of a storm-tossed soul who perishes tragically at sea.

        But the star character of this chapter is Queequeg. It is he to whom Peter Coffin refers when Ishmael asks for a bed. "'But avast,' he added, tapping his forehead, 'you hain't no objections to sharing a harpooneer's blanket, have ye? I s'pose you are goin' a-whalin', so you'd better get used to that sort of thing.'" At this point, Ishmael has no idea the harpooneer in question is a savage South Sea Islander, a so-called "kanaka" (ka-NAH-ka). It develops that Ishmael is kept waiting, because -- according to Coffin -- Queequeg is out late, selling his head. An amusing exchange ensues before an incensed Ishmael is given to understand that it is "a 'balmed New Zealand head -- great curios, you know."

        Ishmael, already in bed, finally meets Queequeg, tattooed with black squares all over his purplish, yellow skin, when the savage comes back late at night. Something convinces Ishmael that his roomate "must indeed be a heathen." It is a little wooden idol that the savage harpooneer begins to worship with fire in the fireplace, before he is aware of Ishmael in the bed. Melville will indirectly make the case that Queequeg's religiosity -- natural, voluntary, and free of the stultifying anxieties and inhibitions of sin -- is superior to that of the white man.

        Queequeg, surprised at the strange figure in his bed, says, "Who-e debel you? You no speak-e, dam-me, I kill-e." "Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin," shouts Ishmael. Peter Coffin arrives assuring Ishmael, "Queequeg here wouldn't harm a hair of your head" -- and to Queequeg, "Look here -- you sabbee me, I sabbee you -- this man sleepee you -- you sabbee?" For all his tattooings, Queequeg was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. With a "Me sabbee plenty", Queequeg hops in bed with Ishmael, who voices Melville's sermon of tolerance thus: "The man's a human being, just as I am; he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian." Such is the prelude to Melville's coming indictment of the Quaker whalemen who bully, abuse, and lead astray their non-white shipmates in the whale fishery.