Chapter 5 - Breakfast.

I quickly followed suit, and descending into the bar-room accosted the grinning landlord very pleasantly. I cherished no malice towards him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow.

However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.

The bar-room was now full of the boarders who had been dropping in the night previous, and whom I had not as yet had a good look at. They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers; a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.

You could pretty plainly tell how long each one had been ashore. This young fellow's healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue, and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next him looks a few shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the complexion of a third still lingers a tropic tawn, but slightly bleached withal; HE doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the Andes' western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates, zone by zone.

"Grub, ho!" now cried the landlord, flinging open a door, and in we went to breakfast.

They say that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not always, though: Ledyard, the great New England traveller, and Mungo Park, the Scotch one; of all men, they possessed the least assurance in the parlor. But perhaps the mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn by dogs as Ledyard did, or the taking a long solitary walk on an empty stomach, in the negro heart of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo's performances--this kind of travel, I say, may not be the very best mode of attaining a high social polish. Still, for the most part, that sort of thing is to be had anywhere.

These reflections just here are occasioned by the circumstance that after we were all seated at the table, and I was preparing to hear some good stories about whaling; to my no small surprise, nearly every man maintained a profound silence. And not only that, but they looked embarrassed. Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas--entire strangers to them--and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table--all of the same calling, all of kindred tastes--looking round as sheepishly at each other as though they had never been out of sight of some sheepfold among the Green Mountains. A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!

But as for Queequeg--why, Queequeg sat there among them--at the head of the table, too, it so chanced; as cool as an icicle. To be sure I cannot say much for his breeding. His greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But THAT was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.

We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare. Enough, that when breakfast was over he withdrew like the rest into the public room, lighted his tomahawk-pipe, and was sitting there quietly digesting and smoking with his inseparable hat on, when I sallied out for a stroll.


  1. Yet another instance of the theme of appearance vs. reality.  The burly sailors were awkward and quiet instead of manly and vociferous.  Ishmael wasn't expecting this antithesis at all.

    — Noelle Thompson
  2. Note the differences of complexion that Ishmael discovers here.  In this way, he can tell how long a sailor has been away from the ocean.  As the world's most rejuvenating force (according to Ishmael), it enlivens even the most pale of faces.  It is also important to note that Queequeg is the most ruddy of them all.

    — Noelle Thompson
  3. Just another way to say the following: "laugh, and the world laughs with you."  Good-natured humor, yet another reason for the reader to adore our narrator, the ever-optimistic Ishmael. In the opinion of this eNotes Educator, learning to laugh at yourself is one of the most important things you can learn in life.

    — Noelle Thompson
  4. Now for some words of interpretation. This is yet another chapter of Melville’s Moby Dick that shows the good natured character of Ishmael. How Ishmael reacts to Mr. Coffin’s large smiles and jokes shows what a wonderful person Ishmael truly is. Ishmael goes into quite a soliloquy about how people of this world laugh so very little that if Ishmael is the butt of jokes, he can do nothing but smile himself. He is glad that people will have a simple laugh at his expense. Truly, this is one of the lessons of life that so many people neglect: learn to laugh at yourself, for then you will find yourself laughing WITH them instead of them laughing AT you. It is also important within this chapter to, again, note the importance of the sea’s influence. If you look at the different sailors along with their matching demeanors, you can tell exactly how long each particular sailor has been in port. What element of nature has the most calming, soothing, and rejuvenating effect on the human body? The ocean. The sailors who have been away from the sea for a long period of time are sickly looking, pale, sallow-faced, and ugly. On the contrary, the sailors who have only recently come in from a whaling voyage are tanned, healthy, and ruddy in complexion. In this way, chapter five of Melville’s Moby Dick can be compared with chapter one. Why? Because when Ishmael feels like the former sailors described here “then, I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.” It is also interesting to note another incidence of appearance vs. reality here. Where Ishmael expects the sailors to be burly and confident, they are actually rather shy when placed indoors, eating, and forced with a rather awkward social situation. Further, it is lucky for the reader that Ishmael is such an avid people-watcher. It is also in this chapter that we see a further explication of Queequeg’s character. Ishmael is watching and waiting to see some confidence and perseverance from the sailors; however, Ishmael finds none of those positive leadership qualities in anyone but Queequeg. A character who embodies the appearance vs. reality theme, Queequeg is so confident and full of joy and strong that he is unafraid to bring his whaling instruments to the table while spearing his rare meat and smoking his pipe. The reader is meant to honor this “cannibal” in noting the most positive qualities of humankind. For a further explanation and description of plot, please see my first note that begins with the following phrase: “First let us expound upon the plot of this particular chapter.”

    — Noelle Thompson
  5. First, let us expound upon the plot of this particular chapter. Now that Ishmael is finally free of Queequeg’s friendly bed-fellow grasp, Ishmael decides to leave his room and go down to the breakfast for all of the different whalers gathered to attend the most recent voyage. They are a definite motley crew with all of their different expressions and degrees of health. On his way down to breakfast, Ishmael again meets Mr. Coffin, the landlord and manager of the inn in which he was staying. Mr. Coffin smiles and smiles at Ishmael. Ishmael can’t help but smile back. Mr. Coffin, of course, is enjoying the joke of the night before where he convinced Ishmael to room with Queequeg, the head-hunting cannibal. Ishmael expresses his happiness at being the butt of a joke, not because he isn’t wise, but because he knows that people of the world laugh so little, Ishmael is happy to bring some joy into anyone’s life. (This is a huge insight into his character. Please see “Now for some words of interpretation” as a note at the end of this chapter.) Further, as an eternal optimist, Ishmael admits he is not the type of man to hold a grudge. Then the breakfast begins with Mr. Coffin’s cry of “Grub, ho!” The sailors enter the room and Ishmael expects nothing less than great confidence and steadfastness and burliness and gruffness and courage to emanate from the group of men. So, instead of hearing a vast amount of burly whaling stories, Ishmael is very surprised at what he actually sees: a group of men who are shy and awkward indoors, not quite sure how to handle a strange social situation such as this. The one picture of confidence is Queequeg. Not only is he the most tanned and healthy-looking of the group, but he is the most confident (albeit not very mannerly). Queequeg takes his harpoon to the table and uses it as a kind of serving utensil to grasp things from the other side of the table (much to the other sailors’ surprise). Strangely enough, the sailors are quiet in their awkwardness. They also accept Queequeg’s “uncivilized” manner without question. Queequeg always spears the rarest of the steaks with his harpoon and polishes off the meal with a good smoke from his tomahawk tobacco pipe. For further explanation, please see my note at the end of this book beginning with the following phrase: "Now for some words of interpretation."

    — Noelle Thompson