The Symbolism in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

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Symbolism is a form of speech used in literature when a situation, word, person or object is used to stand for something else such as an idea. Many authors use symbolism to create meaning and emotion in their story. The commonly used types of symbolism are allegory and metaphors. The metaphor is a figure of speech where two different objects and showing they have something in common. Nevertheless, allegory is a poem, picture or story that when interpreted disclose the concealed or complex meaning, mostly a political, spiritual or moral one. Herman Melville uses symbolism to bring about main themes in the novel such as religion, race, fate and free will, the relationship of man and the natural world, sexuality and sexual identity among others (Bond 100). The symbols used by Herman Melville are the Moby-Dick, Pequod, sailor’s coffin among others.

            The coffin belonging to Queequeg, a sailor, represents both life and death. The coffin was initially built when Queequeg was severely ill and feared death. In this case, the coffin represented death as it was to be used to bury Queequeg. Fortunately, he recovers and uses the coffin as a cabinet to keep his belongings. Later on, it is used as a buck up, symbolizing life for all the sailors on the whaling ship. The coffin is used to save not only the life of Ishmael, a sailor, and teller of the tale but also the existence of the story when the Pequod sinks (Herman105). Furthermore, the top of the coffin contains Queequeg’s tattoos that show his ancient knowledge of nature. The legacy is saved for future generation by the coffin as Queequeg lacks children to inherit it.

            The Pequod, the whaling ship, represents doom. The whaling ship was captained by Ahab, whose life mission was to kill the white whale, Moby-Dick that has snatched his leg. In the tale, the whaling ship pursues the enormous white whale; admission fated to fail (Bond 100). The ship is named after a tribe in India, Massachusetts that perished following the coming of the white people. In addition, the ship was decorated with bones and teeth of whales and painted a horrid black. Pequod also contains death images everywhere and decorated to resemble a coffin, of which it later becomes.

            Moby-Dick itself is a symbol of the novel. The large white whale, Moby-Dick, snatched Ahab’s leg. Ahab has been unable to kill the whale for years. The whale represents nature as it is uncontrollable and random, nevertheless beautiful and amazing. Moby-Dick eventually kills Ahab as he tries to revenge for the loss of his leg. The part of Moby-Dick and Ahab shows the pursuit of human to affirm their authority over the universe. Moby-Dick is white to represent purity and goodness as well as emptiness (Herman 102). The white color shows the contradiction. Sailors’ opinion towards the whale differs; some are amazed, others afraid and Ahab is cruel.

            Father Mapple’s pulpit brings about the theme of religion. The pulpit resembles the ship’s bow and has a painting of an angel watching a sea vessel struggling with a storm on a rough coast. The chapel on the ship reminds any guest of living and demise at sea. Pastor’s leadership is shown by the presence of the pulpit and God the captain of the ship. The angel depicts God’s grace to console and give hope to sailors. Father Mapple uses a rope to climb to the pulpit which he afterward removes the rope to avoid interaction with the shipmates. Herman Melville uses the contrast in the novel to bring the difference between Mapple and Ahab (Herman 99). Maple is an aged believer in God who submits to the higher authority, therefore, leading the ship through the rough coast. On the contrary, Ahab is ungodly and disobeys the authority. Therefore, the pulpit shows a suitable place for the captain of the ship and diligently performing his duties in performing God’s will.

            The golden doubloon is also used symbolically in the novel. Ahab nails the doubloon at the mast of the ship as a reward of any sailor who sees the Moby-Dick first. Sailors’ interpretation varies. According to Ishmael, the coins used are from Ecuador, Quito a country nearby and entitled to the equinoctial, linked with the midpoint of the universe and the luminance tropical sun (Roy 980). The interpretation meant that the gold doubloon marked the center of the whaling ship. Starbuck sees it as universal goodness and of the grace of God. Ahab interprets that the volcano, cock and the tower all symbolize himself. The last sailor, Pips interprets that the doubloon is the navel of the ship and whoever wins it would be destroying the ship.

Works Cited

Bond, Garrett Sterling. "Viewing the Whale: Space, Time, and the Imagination in"Moby-Dick"and Comics."2016, pp. 100.

Herman, Melville. Moby Dick. Strelbytskyy Multimedia, 2017, pp. 99-105.

Roy, Raymond C. "Mentorship in Melville."Anesthesiology: The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, vol. 126, no. 5, 2017, pp. 980-981.

December 12, 2023




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