Moby Dick 4 Essay, Research Paper
What the White Whale Symbolizes
I looked at chapter 42, The Whiteness of the Whale , and how Melville uses symbolism of color. In many parts of the world the color white has a religious meaning, it gives a god like appearance. To Captain Ahab he has a totally different outlook of the White Whale. To him the whale represents all things evil in the world and Hermen Melville points out that it is not good to look at something and give it just one meaning. Ahab sees the evil, the crew sees the money they could get for Moby Dick, and Ishmel sees things in many different ways. Ishmel wonders why we pay so much atten- tion to the color white. Is it the absence of color or is it at the same time the concrete of all colors. (p.212)
Ishmel views the color of the whale to mean a number of different things and that it can mean different things to different people. Melville is wanting us to look at things around us and give them more than one meaning. Ahab only gives the whale only one meaning which eventually overcomes him and sends him to his death. Ishmel points out that the color white can mean many things such as beauty, Though many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls (p.204) Ishmel also tells us that the color white can mean strength as in the polar bear and the great white shark, Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics (p.205) Ishmel also saw that white can have religious meaning as well, Most famous on our Western annals and Indians traditions is that of the White Steed of the Praries; a magnificent milk-white charger, large eyed, small-headed, bluff-chested, and with the dignity of a thousand monarchs He was elected Xerxes of vast herds of wild horses (p.207)
Ishmel is quickly to point out that not all things in nature that are white are looked up to and respected, example the Albino man. pervading whiteness makes him more strangely hideous than the ugliest abortion. Why should this be? (p.208) Why should we have this double standard. I think that Melville is trying to say is that things in nature can mean many things to many people.
Ishmel tells us that white can mean fear in some cases. Ishmel example is that of a mariner. He notes that a sailor approaching the shore at night is not nearly as scared as when he is approaching it at night with a thick fog around him. Its not the fear of running a ground but that hideous whiteness that so stirred me. (p.210) The white fog is like a ghost. Secondly is that of Indians of Peru, where the constant reminder of the snow capped Andes conveys naught of dread, except, perhaps, in the fancying of the eternal frosted desolateness reigning at such a vast altitude, and the natural conceit of what a fearfulness it would be to lose oneself in such inhuman solitude. (p.210) Ishmel is able to see all the meanings of the color white, unlike Ahab. This might be the thing that ends up saving Ishmel at the end of the story.
Ishmel doesn t understand where these meanings and interpretations of the color white come. Are we born with them? He gives the example of the young colt who is born out in the country away from everything that could harm him. By just smelling the musk of a hide of a buffalo that he starts to panic and is frightened, even though he has never seen or been hurt by one. Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet as with me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist.”(p.211)
Melville shows us that white can be both good and evil and that it is in the eye of the beholder. Everybody views things differently. Ahab had revenge on his mind and was focused on one thing and that was to kill Moby Dick. He saw the White Whale has representing one thing only, all of the evil in the universe. Melville wanted us to be able to look at our surroundings and not have just one view point. He wants us to be like Ishmel who really think hard about the meaning of the color white. To analyze all the possible different meanings and he does this with all of the examples he gives us. Melville shows us that Moby Dick can represent all of these things in the chapter. So Moby Dick isn t symbolic of only one thing but of all things in the universe.