The Symbolism of Moby Dick

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The Symbolism of Moby Dick

"He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it." Such was Melville's description of Captain Ahab. The symbolism that this statement suggests, along with many other instances of symbolism, are incorporated into Moby Dick. Although the crew knew that Ahab was obsessed with vengeance and wasn't interested in killing Moby Dick for whale oil, they still felt obligated to follow his orders. They knew that the rule book said that if a captain went against his contract due to personal feelings, they were obliged to wrest command from him. This idea symbolizes the emotional attachment we have to those around us, and it also demonstrates the mixed feelings we have when somebody we respect does something evil. In the end, this emotional attachment destroyed the crew. Starbuck had a golden opportunity to kill Ahab, but for his own salvation, he undermined the good of the crew and chose to let the Captain live. So, part of the lesson of Moby Dick is not to let sentiment and personal feelings get in the way of our duty. The lack of this lesson among the crew destroyed Ahab and the entire ship's compliment, except for Ishmael.

When Captain Ahab stabbed at Moby Dick with the harpoon, he was symbolizing the power that obsession has when a person lets it take over one's mind. Ahab had no chance of killing Moby Dick, yet he engaged in his suicide plan to stab at the whale. This lesson not to let obsession take over your mind is similar to Javert's obsession with justice and imprisoning Valjean in Les Miserables. It shows that a passion with a personal vendetta will ultimately destroy a person, whether it destroys the person physically or mentally.

Moby Dick also was a mixed symbol. It seemed clear to the crew of the Pequod that whales were evil and whales were the enemy. Yet, white is a...
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