Chapter 72 The Monkey-Rope

        In this chapter Ishmael once more asserts that he and Queequeg are "wedded" . [There are a number of commentators, past and present, who chide Melville for having Ishmael abandon Queequeg after the first few chapters, but this is not so. It only appears to be so, because there is little direct dialog between the two after they have shipped aboard the Pequod. But Queequeg plays an important supporting role throughout, even though the interesting dialog is among Ahab, Ahab himself in soliloquy, and Ahab's underlings.]

        Now we go back to Stubb's whale and the monkey rope wedding . . .

        The agent of the "wedding" is the so-called monkey rope tied round both their waists. Ishmael's job is to stand on deck while harpooneer Queequeg's job is to stand half-submerged on the slippery, revolving whale to facilitate the blubber-hook and the cutting-spades in their mission of tearing and slicing off the blubber blanket. All the while, the ravenous sharks, in a feeding frenzy, threaten to dismember him. The monkey rope linking Queequeg on the whale to Ishmael on the deck serves as an insurance policy that lends a semblance of security -- and a guarantee of faithfulness to the acrobat-on-the-whale. If Queequeg should slip between the whale and the ship, why a yank on the monkey rope saves him from being crushed! If he slips into the midst of the chomping jaws -- yank! -- and he's back on the whale! -- or so the theory goes. Should the man on the whale sink to Davey Jones' locker at the bottom of the sea, then the man on deck tied to the other end of that unforgiving monkey rope is duty-bound accompany him thither (Stubb's law). Needless to say it behooves Ishmael, in danger of being yanked overboard, to be faithful and watchful and save his shipmate-spouse harmless, while the monkey rope wedding is in force!

        This perilous alliance gives introspective Ishmael good cause to ruminate on his situation. He might pay dearly for the missteps of another. Regreting this loss of "free will" (his words), philosophically he concedes that his situation is "the precise situation of every mortal that breathes". We all are dependent on someone else to protect us from harm! "If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die." Which brings us to Melville's Hypothesis: We are all on monkey ropes. Ishmael puts it this way: "Well, well, my dear comrade and twin brother, thought I as I drew in and then slacked off the rope to every swell of the sea -- what matters it, after all? Are you, Queequeg, not the precious image of each and all of us men in this whaling world? That unsounded ocean you gasp in is LIFE; those sharks, your foes; those spades, your friends; and what between sharks and spades you are in a sad pickle and peril, poor lad."

        The customary reward for "the harpooneer off the whale" was a stiff drink of grog [rum diluted with water]. But this is the Pequod out of Quaker Nantucket. Aunt Charity gave strict orders to Dough-Boy, the steward: no spirits for the harpooneers -- just her ginger-jub tea.

        It's Stubb to the rescue once more. "Ginger-jub! You gingerly rascal take that! and run along with ye to the lockers for something better -- captain's orders: grog for the harpooneer off the whale."

        Two containers emerged on deck. The first contained strong spirits and was handed to Queequeg; the second was Aunt Charity's gift, and that was freely given to the waves.