Comparing Ishmael’s Relationship With Queequeg In Moby Dick To Huck’s Relationship With Jim

It is useful to compare Huck’s relation with Jim in Huckleberry Finn to Ishmael in “Moby Dick”. The “savages” in both stories actually humanize and civilize the character who is supposed to have been “civilized”. What will interest readers is how each author has used a similar and different process.

Melville uses the same relationships as Twain to show the hypocrisy that exists in our society. In Huck Finn the physical appearance of a person is all that matters when deciding who gets rights. Jim is a morally high-minded black character, and society does not care how immoral the white man may be. Pap is also not viewed favorably by society, but he still gets custody of Huck. Huck as a baby is not regarded as being as important as Pap’s rights to donate sperm (since he’s not really a father). Twain’s satire of the complete lack if logic in decisions by society is very effective. This includes the justice systems and the rather blindly adhered to distortions within Christianity. No decision seems to make any sense. Everyone seems to blindly follow the arbitrary rules and laws that govern social institutions. Huck & Jim can rise above the illogical social rules and forge a relationship, which is clearly forbidden. Jim becomes Huck’s dad and Huck’s equal. Huck is driven to act out of compassion towards Jim, despite what he fears will be the moral/religious and legal consequences. Huck’s compassion for Jim is what makes him decide to help Jim, regardless of the legal and moral/religious consequences he believes he will face.

Moby-Dick is the best example of hypocrisy that I can think of to illustrate the problem in our society. The way shipowners treat their wages is similar to the hypocrisy of Father Mapple in his sermon on disobedience. Captain Bildad’s avarice is what puts him in danger. He preaches to men that they should not keep treasures on earth. Queequeg seems to not understand the concept of greed. Instead, he gives Ishmael everything he owns. Ishmael is almost irritated by Queequeg because society has programmed him to think otherwise. Ismael, on the other hand, is more savage.

The characters of both authors are allowed to escape society and create a world for themselves on the waters. In this world, “values” from society are suppressed and replaced by a more logical system. The “uncivilized character” is viewed as a “civilized character” in this world. Instead of judging someone’s value based on something so arbitrary as physical appearance, the importance of practical things like survival skills and companionship is emphasized. Ismael, for example, initially describes Queequeg as being strange. The narrator describes Queequeg’s appearance, rituals and mannerisms as being very strange.

According to society, he is a “savage”. In the whaler’s society, he holds the same status as the other crew members on the Pequod. It is not the sailors who are causing him trouble, but the values that the society of land holds. Queequeg saves his sailor from drowning by jumping into the water. Before the ship even set sail he was able to kill him.

Jim is the lifeline of Huck in Huck-Finn. He is not a slave, as he appears to be in society’s eyes. Huck’s life depends on Jim in the same way that Jim’s is dependent upon Huck. The society does not consider them equals, but on the boat, they become equals. Huck’s inability to accept this truth can be traced back to the influence of society. His belief in the Christianity he learned at school conflicts with what he feels when he’s away from this society. That is one of the reasons why his decision of helping Jim was so powerful. Huck’s willingness for hell is fascinating both because of his view on hell and the fact that he doesn’t have the maturity to question what he has been taught.

Both authors address the dehumanization of society in their novels, which is why there are many similarities. This civilized society is responsible for destroying the humane and civil side of humans in order to gain income. In order to understand the difference between characters like Jim and Queequeg, as well as the white civilized society in America, one must look at the soul. The “savages”, unlike Huck and Ishmael, have not been stripped of their humanity.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.