When Ishmael sits down to a late supper in the frigid Spouter Inn, he and a number of sailors are obliged to button up their coats and hold teacups to their lips to supplement the unwarming glow of two cheap candles upon the table. The inhospitable temperature of the Inn is juxtaposed to the bounty they’re served for the meal: not only meat and potatoes but “dumplings… good heavens! dumplings,” Ishmael reports in that voice designed to replicate the pleasant surprise. A “young fellow” among the huddle at the table sets to eating these dumplings ravenously, prompting landlord Coffin to caution him about disturbing his dreams.
MK illustrates these rapidly consumed dumplings as four roughly formed pea-green balls – evenly spaced apart, each trailed by multiple thin black hash marks depicting motion – arching their way from the lower left corner of the canvas to its middle-right, where some have hurtled into a tunnel shaped into a flat black wall dominating the right side of the canvas. Apart from the context provided by the titular quotation from MD, only two minimal, colored features aid the impression that this is the young fellow’s face the green balls are disappearing into. Overlaying the black form, aligned in the lower-right corner of the canvas, a forest-green triangle is bisected by two parallel white lines (one solid and one dashed, like striping on a two-lane highway) and a white-outlined circle to the right of these lines: the seam and a button of the young fellow’s “box coat.” Near the top of the canvas, a narrow multi-colored balene band extends from one edge of the black wall-like form to the edge of the canvas in alternating blocks of green and blue, save for one block of red so placed as to give the figure a greedy aperture.
This is a relatively simple canvas depicting a simple moment of paternalistic humor in MD, but there are several significant movements happening here in MK’s enterprise (besides the arch of the dumplings):
- The silhouette chosen to represent the face of the young fellow suggests MK interprets this character as a landlubber, since it recalls the peglike form of the water gazers in 2 and the “black Angel of Doom” in 8; this interpretation is supported by the textual detail that the young fellow is dressed in a “box coat” rather than a “monkey jacket” like the sailors at the table wear (and apparently Ishmael, too), which is shorter in length so as not to catch in the wind.
- MK’s attentiveness to what the characters are wearing in MD is being advertised by the shift in this canvas of one source of found pages to another. Up to this point every illustration has been created upon a page from a radio systems manual. This illustration is painted on a page from a sewing instruction book, turned on its side. A black-and-white diagram comparing four different types of stitch is left exposed in the upper-left quadrant of the canvas, and about the middle a series of beige illustrations shows the correct way to sew a suture. In fact, MK embraces this series of diagrammed folded seams – from left to right: too loose, too tight, just right – to aid in the effect of the dumplings’ trajectory into the young fellow’s hatch.
- We will see a handful more of these peglike figures before the Pequod sets sail, but this is the only remaining form of this type that is imbued with natural elements and textures in a fashion similar to the more prominent seafaring characters MK knows to be shortly arriving to the book. These Elementals will be discussed in their time, but the “young fellow” addressing himself to dumplings in the Spouter Inn is in transitional state, a hybrid figure. He wears the trappings of a landlubber: the box coat and buoy-peg silhouette, but his head is oped to or by the hues of the sea. The natural texture of the balene band that makes a power-stache on the archetypal captain commanding “GET!” (in 4) and a frown upon the geometric face of “the invisible police officer of the fates” that bullied Ishmael into whaling (in 5) serves the young fellow for eyes. A fresh experience asea is to come or perhaps just past, an experience before or behind that of Ishmael, who for his part doesn’t give the young fellow a second passing glance.
- The solitary red rectangle interrupting the blue-green pattern of the young fellow’s balene band, placed so as to suggest an eye, provides a clue to interpreting the red eyes of a figure that’s been haunting me – the black Angel of Doom – and one very prominent and important seafaring character MK knows to be shortly arriving to the Spouter Inn (and into MD), who is nearly always illustrated with red, pointilated pupils for eyes like those staring out of the canvas in 8 – Queequeg. In MK’s illustrations red eyes betoken a character in extremity: for the young fellow, his extremity is simple, albeit voracious hunger (“Whatcha doing?” “Eating!”). The extremity of the “black Angel of Doom” is harder to articulate, being that of a whole individual life in extreme which also shoulders the extremeness of a whole people in extremity, striving to acknowledge each of those individual extremities, and delivering them all faith. The single red hungry eye of this young fellow calls me to look back with a more sensitive and sympathetic eye on MK’s “black Angel of Doom” and quickens my anticipation of eyes I know to be awaiting me ahead.
This canvas made out of a page about how to sew sutures is itself a suture. In lightheartedly illustrating the direful manner in which this young fellow addressed himself to dumplings, MK had his own lee shore.