Symbols And Meanings In "Moby Dick"

2374 words - 10 pages

The novel begins with the famous statement by the book's narrator. "Call me Ishmael". He has the habit of going to sea whenever he begins to grow "hazy about the eyes." He goes to sea as a laborer, not as a Commodore, a Captain or a Cook, but as a simple sailor. He does so because he may be paid and because it affords him wholesome exercise and pure sea air. It is said that the novel Moby Dick is one of the most ambitious in American literature, one that encompasses many different styles of writing. Herman Melville uses his characters, his locations and even inanimate objects to serve as symbols for his story. This is a story of a man (Ahab), in search of Satan (Moby Dick), on the one ha ...view middle of the document...

Throughout the novel, non-Christian societies are linked to evil behavior. With the exception of Queequeg, equating the pagan characters with Satan does align with the general religious overtones of the novel. Initially, Ishmael is swept totally into the compelling scope of Ahab's quest. "I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine" (Bickman. 33). Unlike most fictional narrators, Ishmael is not merely a surrogate for an absentee author. As a narrator, Ishmael enters more deeply into his symbolic world and increasingly becomes a presence, a visionary activity, instead of a man that we lose interest in as an individual, yet even Ishmael the sailor almost drops from the story. " It is Melville's own voice that utters the passage on the heroic stature of Ahab. This apparent violation of narrative standpoint is really a natural consequence of the symbolic method of Moby Dick" (Rountree. 83). It seems to me that the whole book, though cast in the form of historical narrative, tends to the conditioning of drama in the sense that it is a presentation, like Ishmael's vision of the whale processions, in which both Melville and Ishmael loose themselves.In my opinion, the sea represents a transitional place between two distinct states. This is shown early on in the novel in the case of Queequeg and the other Isolatoes (Daggoo and Tashtego) who represent the transition from uncivilized to civilized societies unbound by any specific nationality, yet in an overwhelming amount of cases, this transitional theme relates to the unstable line between life and death. There are many characters who waver on the edge between life and death, whether literary or metaphorically throughout Moby Dick. For example, during Queequeg's illness, he prepares for death and in fact remains in his own coffin waiting for the illness to overtake him, yet it never does. (Melville. Chapter 110). The coffin itself becomes a transitional element when the carpenter converts it into a life buoy and it thus becomes the symbol of the saving of a life and the ending of a life. Several of the minor characters in the novel also exist in highly transitional states between life and death. Another example is when Pippin jumps to his death from the whaling boat and is saved by dumb luck, yet he loses his sanity and behaves as if part of him, the "infinite of his soul", had already died; essentially, Pippin awaits death. This theme is further explored through the blacksmith, who primarily works on the sea to escape life, after his family had died. He exists on the sea primarily as a passage before he dies.Starbuck is the chief mate of the Pequod, a Nantucket native and a Quaker with a thin build. Melville portrays Starbuck as a strong believer in hu...


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