The title, yes. A word about that. It’s not a ploy for cheap laughs. I don’t do humor; I’m earnest, you see. Only earnest people say things like “Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable” and mean it. No, I’m unfunny. But unlike me, Melville is both funny and earnest. It’s a rare talent among gifted writers. Most folks take his earnestness for granted, not so his humor. But he possesses a great comedic sense all his own. It starts in the first passage of the book with the venting of spleen and the knocking off of hats and continues largely unabated right up through and beyond Chapter XCV, a 12-inch chapter-cum-tribute to the wonderfullest swinging unmentionable of all.
On the decks of the Pequod, behold it, ye curious voyeur, you! “You would have scanned with no small curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers.”
No small curiosity, indeed. Just the opposite. The unmentionable is pathetically flopped on deck because it’s no longer attached to a body. That’s what happens when a Leviathan’s leviathan gets chopped off by an industrious Bobbitt.
What else do we learn about this strange, enigmatical object?
It’s “an unaccountable cone,—longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet black….” The unmentionable begins to lurch about only when a sailor humps it on his back “with bowed shoulders” and “staggers off with it as if he were a grenadier carrying a dead comrade from the field.” Then the sailor carefully removes the “dark pelt” with a skinning knife, turning it inside out. Cutting two slits for armholes he slips himself into it, a truly fashion-forward bloke.
Now properly attired in his snug penis pelt, the sailor begins the divine work of shaving bible leaves of blubber from the dead castrated beast, making it easier to boil the flesh and extract the oil, so landsmen can light their way in a dark and darkening world.
Yes, Melville has a wicked, sharp sense of humor.