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What does the White Whale symbolize in Moby-Dick? Show more Show less
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As one of the most famous symbols in literature, one would expect "Moby-Dick's" White Whale to have a single and exact meaning. Although known by most as a symbol of Ahab's monomaniac obsession, the White Whale actually could represent a multitude of different things. What does the White Whale truly symbolize?

The whale in Moby Dick represents some sort of inscrutable god or higher power Show more Show less

There are many reasons why the White Whale represents God. The whale's whiteness relates to the holiness of higher powers. The whale's incomprehensible size and strength represent that of a diety. Captain Ahab wants to kill the whale to become a God himself.
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The whale in Moby Dick represents the weaver god or some other divine entity

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The Argument

Throughout the novel, Melville often discusses whales in relation with the topic of weaving. The first chapter Loomings itself is a play on the loom as well as being an indication that the rest of the narrative has always been destined. Although the onset of the novel, this idea is echoed throughout the entirety of the book. The concept of weaving and the loom, however, is most frequently mentioned in relation to the whale and its divinity. This sentiment is discussed most prominently perhaps in Chapter 102, “A Bower in the Arsacides”. Here the narrator Ishmael likens a beached whale’s skeleton to a weaver, stating, “The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it.” In this passage, Melville heightens the status of the whale to god-like. The skeleton of the whale is omnipotent–even through death, it creates and molds reality, taking no heed for mortals. This idea of the whale’s divinity is also explored in Chapter 86, “The Tail”. Melville first describes the whale’s tale in similar weaving terminology as he describes the whale as “knit over with a warp and woof of muscular fibers and filaments…” Following this allusion to weaving, Melville posits that the immaculate strength and grace of the whale, comes from such a woven body. Moreover, in this same chapter, Melville likens the movement of the whale to Satan: “Out of the bottomless profundities the gigantic tail seems spasmodically snatching at the highest heaven. So in dreams, have I seen majestic Satan thrusting forth his tormented colossal claw from the flame Baltic of Hell.” In such Miltonian terms, the whale is again given status as a divine entity. Whether a force of good or evil, it is clear that Melville intends for the whale to be elevated from … For the White Whale specifically, divinity is not clearly ascertained. Its identity varies from person to person, with all for the most part agreeing to its supernatural status. For example, first mate Starbuck believes the White Whale to be a demon of sorts, while Ahab chooses not to identify the whale in that manner, focusing solely on revenge. Throughout the novel, however, it is clear the White Whale is the greatest of all the whales in strength, magnitude, and divine qualities (again, both the good and bad). In this way, it is clear that the White Whale, while being unidentifiable in its exact role in the universe, is some sort of divinity or supernatural being.

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    This page was last edited on Saturday, 29 Aug 2020 at 15:04 UTC

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