Symbolism In Moby Dick Essay Research Paper

Symbolism In Moby Dick Essay, Research Paper


Symbolism is using a person, place, or thing to represent something else which is larger and often untouchable. It is used in literature to allow authors to be objective while still expressing his/her views. Symbols in a story can be interpreted differently by different people Some symbols stand for things that are obvious while others need a more involved explanation. In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville uses symbolism of the whale to express the theme of humanistic relationships with nature.

The color of the whale in Moby-Dick is a symbol that can be interpreted differently. The whiteness of the whale can have obvious meanings, such as innocence, purity, and cleanliness. However, to some people the color white can be symbolic of death, solitude, strength, power, and a god-like appearance. To Ahab, the whale is not only the beast that removed his leg, he also becomes a symbol of evil and injustice. Because the whale has removed Ahab?s leg, Melville shows that Moby-Dick is capable of great violence. However, he also shows the whale living peacefully and tranquilly at sea until he is attacked by the men(Melville 290-295). This shows the contradiction of the whiteness of the whale because Melville emphasizes that white can mean both tranquillity and good, as well as terror and evil.

Throughout Moby-Dick, the whale is given divine qualities and often compared to God. Just as many people fear God they also fear Moby-Dick. The characters in Moby-Dick all seem to have a different outlook on the symbolism of the whale. To Captain Ahab, the whale symbolizes all that is evil in the universe, and he assumes a personal vengeance against the whale to kill it. In destroying the whale, Ahab is also destroying his own fears and evils that face him in the world. Ishmael, on the other hand, has quite a different interpretation for Moby-Dick. He sees the whale as a representation of nature in all aspects, from its beauty and wonders to the terror and fear that it can bring (DiCurcio 54). Although these two opinions of the whale are quite different from one another, it is evident in both viewpoints that Moby-Dick holds a great deal of power and strength that will be difficult to overcome.

Moby-Dick is symbolic of nature. One of the most common interpretations of the whale is in its comparisons to nature. Melville depicts the whale as being graceful and peaceful in its natural habitat, much like nature in general. He shows that when an outside force interrupts the true course of nature, it can result in violence and unexpected actions of either of the two. The whale is also similar to nature in that it is bound by natural laws, but that within these laws they are capable of being powerful and immortal, at the same time being temperate and peaceful. Ahab views the whale as being similar to nature in that it is destructive. Ishmael associates the whale to nature in that they are both beautiful and wonderful. Starbuck seems to relate Moby-Dick to nature because of its ability to nourish, and he concentrates on what the whale has to offer, such as the oil and money he will obtain in killing it (DiCurcio 49-51).

In Moby-Dick, Melville uses the symbolism of the whale to express the theme of humanistic relationships. The whiteness of the whale in the novel symbolizes that the whale can be both tranquil and evil. The symbolism of the whale can be interpreted as representing the beauty of the world, or as all that is evil and destructive in the world. In this way, Moby-Dick is similar to nature.

Melville, Herman. from Moby-Dick. Literature: The American Experience. Prentice Hall

Inc., Saddle River, New Jersey, 1996.

DiCurcio, Robert. The Life and Works of Herman Melville. Workman Publishers, New

York, 1987.


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