Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
Possessing not only its iconic first line, Loomings as a whole is a lofty and confident entrance into Melville’s world. It’s a terrific character portrait of Ishmael, his humor and his inner feelings, but even then it is made up of brief descriptions—his impulse to knock people’s hats off, his obsession with coffin-warehouses and funerals, etc.
Ishmael explains not only why he must go to sea to prevent going stark raving mad, but also why he must go to sea a common sailor, not needing promotion, nor paying for passage anywhere. He reverently speaks of the freedom from responsibilities of captains and commodores a common sailor enjoys, and the invigorating health and work of salt and spray, so unlike the stuffy cabins of paid passengers. Although Ishmael is positing himself just as common a man as any of the men ‘before the mast,’ he is simultaneously presenting the reader with an intelligent, obsessive, transient and highly melancholic ex-school-teacher with an odd sense of humor—hardly the picture of the tyro (or, idyllic sailor) Ishmael relishes to describe, beginning with Bulkington and Queequeg at the Spouter-Inn. Ishmael is Melville’s extremest self—one that travels all across the globe, perceiving everything, constructing grand metaphors to suit his crazy intellect and wild heart.
The strength bonus attached to Loomings is meant to start the journey off on the right foot, and lend some symmetry to the game experience, which in all cases will end in horror and utter destruction.