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The Metaphor and Symbolism Behind the White Whale

The white whale at the center of Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick is typically deemed to be a single of the most symbolic characters in American literature. In part, this is because not only can the white whale mean several various issues to every reader, but simply because it also is explicitly delineated as obtaining different meanings to the tale’s numerous characters. Though Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale is the centerpiece of the story, the other characters also reflect upon the whale’s significance and it becomes a straight symbolic agent even within the direct narrative. For Captain Ahab, Moby-Dick represents the personification of almost everything that has, is or will be evil in the world. That is, at least, the opinion that Ishmael holds of what Ahab thinks of Moby-Dick, as he says, “All evil, to crazy Ahab, had been visibly personified, and produced virtually assailable in Moby Dick” (154). Ahab’s malice stems from the whale’s theft of his leg, a 19th-century Puritanical substitute for the physique component that Melville was forbidden to write about: Ahab’s penis. The loss of his leg is a symbolic stand-in for the loss of Captain Ahab’s manhood, which is truly what was destroyed by Moby-Dick. Couple of events could be far more evil than that to a tough-edged, embittered 19th-century sailor. Ahab aches to transform Moby-Dick into a symbol of every conception of evil that has existed in the world, from the serpent slithering by way of the Garden of Eden onward, but ultimately Moby-Dick is decreased to becoming practically nothing more than a symbol for all the tiny offenses that males need to construct into universal evils. At one point Ahab actually refers to the personal what he attempts to universalize when he says, “it was Moby-Dick that dismasted me Moby-Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now…it was that accursed white whale that razeed me created a poor begging lubber of me for ever and a day!” (138). Descriptive words such as “dismast” and “dead stump” carry deep rooted connotations of impotence—both in the sexual sense as well as the larger sense of getting incapable of carrying out one’s duties or desires. Moby-Dick took away Ahab’s potential to stand on his own two feet, literally, but also took away his indepenence. Ahab describes Moby-Dick as inscrutable, but that is merely Ahab wanting to imbue Moby-Dick with an element of virtually supernatural skills, as something that is beyond comprehension. For Ahab, Moby-Dick is evil the way that every little thing mysterious always has been and always will be evil: due to the fact people do not want to make the work to realize the object of their dread. Ahab refuses even to attempt to realize what Starbuck may well describe as pure beastly instinct, because the ignorance makes it simpler to categorize Moby-Dick as pure malevolence. He says, “That inscrutable issue is chiefly what I hate and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him” (139). Ahab’s picking to wreak his hate upon Moby-Dick is an try to turn the white whale into anything sentient: not just a carrier of evil, but a creator of evil. Ahab reaches the point exactly where his require to infuse the whale with these attributes becomes obsessive. It takes imagination to become obsessive, nonetheless, and in that regard Ahab stands in direct contrast to Starbuack who refuses to instill any symbolism in the whale at all. Starbuck views Ahab as wanting merely to exact “vengeance on a dumb brute…that just smote thee from blindest instinct!” (138). If what Starbuck says it true, then there is absolutely nothing standing amongst Ahab and pure madness. The only way that Ahab can escape this description is if Ishmael genuinely implies it when he writes that “the White Whale’s infernal aforethought of ferocity, that each dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as possessing been inflicted by an unintelligent agent” (154). If these words are the truth, if there really is an element of consciousness that can be attributed to Moby-Dick’s actions, then it remains attainable for Ahab to escape accusations of madness and monomania. Of course, the concept that consciousness of that level does exist would be madness itself, at least based on what is recognized of whales and other animals so far. No proof suggests that other animals possess the capability of malice aforethought. Far more probably the whale’s symbolic reality is expressed in one more observation by Ishmael. Ishmael captures the essence of how the whale is representative of each individual’s consciousness when he observes that “by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe” (164). Ahab has let the darker component of his nature take more than his personality and sees that in the whale, whilst Starbuck’s lack of imagination will only let him see the whale as dumb, brute beast. The whale is white, an unprismed conglomerate of the guarantee of all colors. These colors are revealed only through the prism of each man’s distinctive consciousness, significantly like Moby-Dick’s meaning.

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