Nationality Sailors

NANTUCKETER, TAHITIAN SAILOR, AZORES SAILOR, LONG-ISLAND SAILOR, PORTUGUESE SAILOR, LASCAR SAILOR, MALTESE SAILOR, DANISH SAILOR, DUTCH SAILOR, BELFAST SAILOR, ENGLISH SAILOR, FRENCH SAILOR

Forecastlemen. Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle, is one of the first (of many) passages to be written in the style of a play—each character involved is given a header, and all action relegated to parenthetical italics. Melville was most likely copying the style in which Shakespeare was written out in his copy of The Plays.[1] Regardless of format, Midnight, Forecastle is chance for some levity after the harrowing and thrilling covenant made by the crew that evening, in Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck. The sailors ‘before the mast’, meaning common sailors, are riotously drunk after Ahab let them pass around the great measure of grog freely. Blessings are bestowed upon the ‘Old Mogul’ and curses sent out into the night against that White Whale who did their Captain so much harm.

These humorous and vulgar characterizations allowed us a visual textual hint to players of a sailing man’s worth: the man talking about dancing, drinking or fighting is probably not the best among your crew. Forecastlemen are many in number, but their virtues are few.


[1] Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (San Francisco: City Lights, 1947), 47.

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