Ishmael and Queequeg’s Fast Friendship: Is it True?

“He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country\'s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.”

Whoa, didn’t they just meet? It’s an interesting phenomenon how Ishmael and Queequeg become bosom buddies so quickly. Is their friendship a true one or one formed for convenience?

Upon arriving in New Bedford at the Spouter Inn, Ishmael discovers that he must share a bed with a cannibal and he is quite disturbed. He attempts to make a bed on a pine bench to save himself the horror of sleeping with an uncivilized savage. When this fails, he at last takes to the bed that he will share with Queequeg, the cannibal. When Queequeg returns to the Inn after a night of selling shrunken human heads on the streets of New Bedford, he discovers Ishmael sharing his bed. There is a slight skirmish but only because Ishmael is frightened by Queequeg’s tomahawk/pipe. It is settled quickly with the help of the Innkeeper and both men fall fast asleep.

Ishmael awakes in the morning only to find Queequeg’s arm thrown over him in a “most loving and affectionate manner.” Later that day, upon returning from church, Ishmael finds Queequeg sitting alone in the parlor of the Spouter Inn. At first the two men remain silent and indifferent towards each other but soon, Ishmael begins a conversation and attempts to explain the purpose of a book to Queequeg who obviously cannot read. The two share a smoke from Queequeg’s tomahawk pipe and it is at this point that Queequeg declares his devotion to his friend Ishmael. From this point on, the two are inseparable.

Forming a friendship of this caliber in less than 24 hours is a bit peculiar. Both men were social outcasts; Queequeg for more obvious reasons, with his filed teeth and tattooed body. It is likely that both men were desperately lonely and found in each other what they did not find in most other people, a fellow outsider. They get along very well despite their cultural, religious, and physical differences. Ishmael even attempts to further the bond between them by joining Queequeg in a worship of Yojo, a small black figurine for which Queequeg has great regard. Then, Queequeg, with the advice of Yojo, insists that the two sail together and that Ishmael choose the ship. Although Ishmael wanted Queequeg’s experienced opinion in choosing a ship, he chooses one alone so as not to let Queequeg down.

The things that the men do for each other demonstrate that they have found a true friendship, not just a convenient one. If Ishmael had been using Queequeg only to find a suitable ship, he likely would have found some other source of knowledge and a new friend when Queequeg told him to choose the ship on his own. Queequeg surely would not have asked Ishmael to join him in worship or said that he would die for him if he did not respect him as a true friend. Despite the drastic differences between these two men, the quick friendship they form appears to be a true one.