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< Back to question What does the White Whale symbolize in Moby-Dick? Show more Show less

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 all evil in the world Show more Show less

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The whiteness of the whale in Moby Dick symbolizes universal evil

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The Argument

In Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”, the White Whale represents and embodies all evil in the world. This stance is reinforced throughout the entirety of the novel, most frequently by the monomaniac Ahab, intent on revenge against the White Whale. In fact, it is clear even from Ahab’s first mention of the titular whale, that the whale is to symbolize universal evil. In describing the whale, Ahab states, “He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.” The narrator, Ishmael, also discusses Ahab’s stance on the White Whale just pages later: “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 still, the sentiment of the White Whale’s embodiment of malice is not held solely by Ahab. For Ishmael, the whale is abhorrent by the very nature of its whiteness. In Chapter 42 “The Whiteness of the Whale”, he states: “…and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me.” And although Ishmael and Ahab are given most of the dialogue/narrative in the novel, many of the other characters echo similar sentiments regarding the whale. In several of the gams throughout the novel, in particular with the Jeroboam, characters who only appear for their respective chapters echo such beliefs regarding the malice of the whale. These meetings with other ships most often offer differing perspectives than solely those of the Pequod. In the gam with the Jeroboam, for example, a member of their crew warns Ahab of the dangers of pursuing the White Whale and likening it to an incarnation of the Shaker God. Throughout the entirety of the novel, the whale is alluded to as not only a malicious creature, but as the embodiment of evil itself. Although the White Whale has come to represent many different things, and symbolizes slightly different things to individual characters, it is clear that the whale is meant to represent that “inscrutable malice” that Ahab sees in it.

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    This page was last edited on Saturday, 29 Aug 2020 at 15:05 UTC

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