Elizabeth
Elizabeth asked:

What are your opinions on what Moby Dick (the whale not the book) symbolizes? I think that Moby Dick could be a reflection of each character (Ahab sees the whale as evil, he is evil), or it could symbolize America's conquest to "conquer" nature. What do you think?

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Karysa The "whiteness" of the whale is meant to represent the terrifying "nothingness" that creeps up upon everyone at some point. This is an example of existentialism because Ahab is desperate to find God and prove to himself that life isn't just a practical joke on us all and that suffering isn't meaningless. When Ahab talks about "pushing through the mask" its really just his way of saying he wants to conquer Moby-Dick, conquer the "nothingness," and discover if God is real and whether or not he is good.
David Bastedo I think that you could interpret the book from a spiritual standpoint as well. We all struggle with meaning in this world whether atheist or deist. Why am I here? Why is the world so messed up? There are many spiritual references within the book. Chapter 7 is a good example with the description of the chapel. Moby Dick represents the one who rules the seas, like God rules the world. Moby Dick is great, all-powerful, mythically powerful even. In our lives, bad things happen to good people and some of these people rage against God. Ahab is the perfect example of this rage. A major theme of the book could very well be Ahab raging against God as the cause of losing his leg. Job of the bible is also a great example of railing against God. Job is considered the oldest story in the Bible. It is expressive of man's rage against the seeming unfairness of the world and trying to reconcile a good God with a fallen world. Job doesn't seek revenge, just understanding so here it differs from Moby Dick. The book is one man's quest to wreck revenge on an almighty creature for the evil done to him. Quequeg brings another spiritual perspective and even Ishmael harkens to spiritual roots. There may also be political and cultural themes of the day, but at its heart it has resonated with readers over the years because it deals with deep spiritual questions that never go away.
Thor I agree that The Whale is a reflection of many things; including our attempt to conquer nature. Most significantly, I see it as a symbol of nature itself and our inability to conquer it without, first, losing our souls to that quest.
Mark André (semi hiatus) I think it's funny that when the book was first published it was easy to see
the whale as the bad guy; and yet today, with our never ending lust for
mass murder we've hunted these beautiful, intelligent mammals to the brink
of extinction. So reading the book today the whale is really the hero, and I'm not
sure Melville ever thought anything like that.
Phil My new favourite book. I found it humourous and moving - but I think the main thread is the futility of revenge, and the lengths people will go to, at the expense of others to chase that revenge.
Shake Speare Moby Dick is an obvious phallic symbol, especially as a SPERM whale. Ahab's quest to avenge himself against the great white rounded-headed beast that emasculated him is obviously an allegory about middle-aged man's rage against e.d. in a Viagra-less world. Also, you'll note that Moby the musician took his name from the whale and his head looks like a phallus.
Diana Heldenbrand I never felt like it was truly about a whale. Lol. It was sheer pent up sexual aggression and the lack of sex in my opinion. It felt as if the writer was expressing his sexual feelings via this book indirectly or subconsciously. (No, I'm not a therapist). Things such as.... the sperm whale, Queequeg + Ishmael's sexual tension and cuddling sessions... Getting the whale equates to symbolic sex.. they didn't get the whale... then his bosom buddy Queequeg dies (.. symbolic of never having sex...). Basically there was so much ambiguity and pent up feelings in this book - that lack of directness frustrated me. Granted this book was written in 1851...before such things could be openly discussed.
Lucian Bordei I'm normally not one to pull the "authorial intent doesn't matter" card, but in this particular case the death of the author came at his own hand. The book clearly tries to tell us that meaning is in the eye of the beholder.

Moby Dick is everything listed so far, and more. Seeing the whale as "a symbol" for any *specific* thing kind of goes against the themes of the book, I think; the white whale represents all of the things so far listed, and more. It is, fittingly enough, a symbolic blank slate to which most if not all of the major ideas of the narrative can be projected over in some way; this is, after all, a story that focuses largely on the subjectivity of meaning.

The extracts at the beginning highlight this and brilliantly set up the connecting theme of the chapters to come, by offering such a large variety of perspectives as to what whales represent.
Shaun The white whale is the ultimate McGuffin.
Ricardo Flores We can "find" symbolism in anything if that is what we are looking for, but I don't think this novel was written with symbolic intentions at all. Melville was himself a sailor abord whale ships. Also, he based the story on the sinking of the Essex. Considering this, I think the novel is probably a true story with just a bit of added fiction. It's interesting to read the comments though...
Nate Very small note, but one interesting thing about the novel to me was that early on Ishmael warns readers of finding "allegory" or "symbolism" in his tale, and claims it to be a straight-forward narration. (I need to find the quote, but its early on).

However, its a nearly impossible book not to find allegory and symbolism in -- and I think Melville says this almost as a practical joke or dare against the reader. The book is rich with spiritual and metaphorical meaning -- often with metaphors that feel completely unique and new.

I agree with Elizabeth that many of symbols change as each character looks at them. The book is filled with omens being interpreted differently ... I'm not sure what I think the whale symbolizes to me; as I just finished the book a couple days ago and my head is still spinning from it.
Trevor Yes. The whale can see out of both sides of his head; his eyes face two different directions. Thus, this idea of duality and seeing both sides serves to suggest that there is not a single correct answer to really any symbol, especially Moby Dick.
Moonisha Huq To me, the white whale symbolizes the ability to see all of the different aspects of a situation. The placement of the whale's eyes allows the animal to see everything around him, which contrasts the placement of the human's eyes that only allow a person to see forward and nothing else. The white whale's ability to see all contrast with Ahab's monomaniacal obsession. Ahab's inability to see the bigger picture cost his everything and leads to the destruction of his crew. Through the white whale, I believe Melville argues that humans should act like the white whale and not to be closed minded like Ahab.
Grant I think the whale can be seen as a metaphor for a few different things. Firstly it can be seen as a representation of the danger of recklessly and obsessively pursuing a single goal or object to the detriment of all others. Secondly, and on a related note, it can be a symbol of an attempt to conquer the unconquerable, or attain the unattainable.

Moby Dick (the whale) can also be a metaphor for America's pursuit of 'whiteness' (it's was written and set during the time of slavery and constant racial tension in the US), when black and white people were completely segregated.

I think the whale can also be seen as a symbol of the human race's drive during this period of time to conquer and attempt to subdue nature itself and bend it to their will, during the height of the industrial revolution.

The fact that Ahab and the rest of the crew's journey ends so badly and fruitlessly can be seen as a warning of the inevitable consequences of the above mentioned potential meanings.
Kevin Varney To me, Moby Dick is a champion of a people who are being persecuted or exploited for profit by another race who do not consider them fully human. His anger and his cunning force his oppressors to recognise that the cruelty they are perpetrating on reasoning minds. Ahab does not want to confront this - so he persuades himself Moby Dick is some sort of demon.
Eric Wardell It's about loss of humanity, due to hysteria most likely. How humans tend to fall in these same traps and their assumption. Moby Dick is the King of the Sea, the Sea where all the tough monster are and where you have to be tough. Whales are pretty big, probably the biggest. And the Whale's body is made for the water, that boat pales in comparison. Ahab is so consumed with revenge, he doesn't even consider himself dying, or maybe he wishes that rather the leg as he feels less human, he's a broken man to himself and maybe his culture weren't as supportive as well. We know he's know longer human when he neglects to assist the Rachel in their quest to find all the small ships lost at sea nor is he able to help a man, the Captain of the Rachel, find his son. He's consumed his fate is sealed. His narcissism as Captain to this self-conceptualized lack of manhood will be his demise. His hate is so strong, he you can see how he uses the irrational angers of his crew, creating an this irrational conflict. Even the transitions of Ahab and Ismael throughout the story striking the reader with a 2 people that could have similar fates and shows the reader of the choices they actually have v.s. what culture, society make us think we have.

Of course, It is absolutely hard to ignore family but just letting them know is support enough and they'll hear it through this story very Masculine tale lol. With this book, he is able to critique his country for the mistakes they'll make even 'til this very day.

He failed miserably in connecting with his time. I think he still is not seen as good writer as much as he is a Talented one. This is something of tremendous cultural importance. I think this also help him deal with personal issues he may have had. Who knows? All my opinion.

Also Moby controls things but he's reckless. He's at the top of the chain, but it's as if he physically can't look down at these beneath him. Maybe his body constrains him. He's unable to see the damage that will take so much work to fix and all the suffering that will result. It's enough to make some one go crazy, yet all you can do is let people be people and it's not rational. All you can do is tell a story and hope one day they'll understand.

Sorry, this is my favorite book.
Belle Welsh
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Roslyn Fuller I think the whale symbolizes the futility of attempting to revenge yourself on something (or someone) that's impervious to your opinion (a force of nature, as it were, that you just have to accept). The longer you persist, the more you stand to lose. At the same time giving up that quest for ultimate vindication is also difficult and it can exercise a seductive pull, as the reward often seems tantalizingly close. Although, I also think Moby Dick was a pretty boring book, so I could be reading more into it than is there in an attempt to amuse myself.
Mark Blackard I think you are on to something about being a reflection of character. The whale became a symbol of Ahab's rage, obsession, and failure. Those emotions can destroy us, as it did Ahab.
This is a great tale, yet very difficult to read. It takes a while to get through it, but it is worth it if you have patience and diligence.
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