Symbolism, Imaginary & Allegory in “Moby Dick”

Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a deeply symbolic and allegoric novel, which reflects on important philosophical, religious, psychological and social concepts.  The narration has a lot of levels of interpretation. The story, which describes the adventures of Ishmael can be interpreted as an environmental epic, philosophical reflection, an adventure novel, and psychological investigation. The novel is multi-layered and thus can bring different glimpses of realization to readers. Herman Melville uses his literary genius to use the simple plot to speak about deep notions.  The author uses symbolism, imaginary and allegory to bring important ideas about interhuman relations, life, and religion. The main author’s purpose for writing the novel is the study  of human personality and motivation.  

Philosophical and psychological investigation become the main purpose, which insprired th author to create   Some specialists believe that Herman Melville uses the novel to speak about his personal life and personal experience. “Call me Ishmael”, introduces himself as the protagonist in the very beginning of the novel (Melville 1:1). This introduction gives readers the clue to understanding the deep connection between the author and his character. Ishmael tells about the start of this journey. Multiple symbols help the author disclose his philosophical concepts and ideas. The journey, described in the novel, can become a symbol of the internal journey of the person, looking of the true self. “Some years ago-nevermind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” (Melville ch.1: 1). Water in classical literature is often depicted as the symbol of life. It also can be interpreted as a symbol of internal emotions and subconscious. Melville turns to these symbols to describe both, an internal and external journey of his characters.  This symbolism gives the readers cues to understanding the real meaning of Ishmael’s journey. The protagonist not only wants to make a sea trip, he signs up for a whaling voyage on the whaling boat called Pequod but also seeks for a better understanding of life. His trip haunting up a white whale becomes the symbol of philosophical search. The whale is another important symbol of the novel. It can have lots of interpretation, but, being central to the novel, it gives keys to the understanding of the author’s concepts and ideas The novel helped the author   to make a complicated journey to the human subconscious and to study deep and hidden inner drives, feelings, and emotions. The author creates powerful images and uses them as a way to discover human conscious and unconscious. Melville shows that anything    can become a source of deep reflections, which leads the person to a better understanding of himself and the world around him. White color, discussed by the characters, is the part of rich imaginary, used by the author. “But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous – why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind” ( Melville ch.104: 380). The image of the white color is used to create the necessary artistic effect and to express the author’s idea. Multiple images, used by the author, become a powerful literary mean, which helps the author share his ideas and concepts with his readers. “When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons, skulls, tusks, jaws, ribs, and vertebrae, all characterized by partial resemblances to the existing breeds of sea-monsters; but at the same time bearing on the other hand similar affinities to the annihilated antichronical Leviathans, their incalculable seniors; I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man” (Melville, ch. 104: 380) . Skeletons and different parts of the dead creates draw a powerful picture, which illustrates how death is manifested in various forms. The image is used to create the picture of death and devastation. At the same time, it creates a feeling of majesty and endless existence. The author skillfully uses images to express his message and make the reader fall into deep reflections. Images, created by Melville, target deep, archetypical parts of the mind. As he describes the protagonist’s impressions from observing the part of the land, full of fish skeletons, “Here Saturn’s grey chaos rolls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics; and in all the 25,000 miles of this world’s circumference, not an inhabitable hand’s breadth of land was visible” (Melville, ch. 104:380). They help the author reach his basic goals – make the readers reflect on universal and general notions not only in abstract forms, but also give them concrete meaning and make the readers not only reflect on them but also feel them.

The very novel becomes an allegory of human life, search for meaning and vanity of all material gain. The author studies motivation, which lies behind human actiosn and studies their reactions in different life situations.  All symbols and images are used by the author to create an allegorical, generalized narration about the meaning of human life and the different ways people chose in this life. The novel is a sheer allegory, which describes a life as a journey.  The story about Moby Dick, about the captain, obsessed with the idea of revenge and the story about the protagonist, starting a long journey in the hope to find purpose and meaning in his life, is an allegory of important life and transcendental concepts. . The decision to hunt down a white whale named Mody Dick becomes the main goal of the journey. Ahab, the captain of the ship, has a personal grudge against Moby Dick. It was Moby Dick, who took Ahab’s leg during one of the previous voyages. The meaning behind the symbol of the white whale is complex.  “Then the whole world was the whale’s; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahab’s harpoon had shed older blood than the Pharaoh’s. Methuselah seems a school-boy. I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of the whale, which, having been before all time, must need exist after all humane ages are over”. (Melville, ch. 104: 380). The whale becomes the central symbol of the novel. It’s a deep and complex symbol, which can be interpreted in several ways. It can be viewed as a symbol of God, nature, fate. The white whale symbolizes different things for different characters. At this point, it has a lot in common with supernatural forces, which are treated by different people differently. The captain of the ship wants to fight Moby Dick and wants to revenge him for his misfortunes and troubles. Some characters treat Moby Dick with respect, while others mock him. Ishmael, the protagonist of the novel, treats white whale with respect. He makes an attempt to understand the whale and huge supernatural powers, which stand behind him. Ishmael becomes the only person, who survives the whale’s attack. The protagonist is saved in the coffin. The coffin becomes the symbol of death and things, which transcendent it. Melville’s symbols help the readers understand important philosophical notions. The author combines religious, philosophical, natural and archetypical concepts while describing the sea journey, chasing the white whale.  The trip itself becomes an allegory of mankind’s search for meaning and the different approaches different people have during this search.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville is an outstanding work, which combines philosophical and religious concepts with skillful descriptions of nature and human psychology.  The author studies motivation behind human actions. His careful choice of characters and deep investigation of their motivation, behavior and driving motifs gives deep insight into psychology of human behavior, human reactions and human beliefs. The novel has several layers of meaning. The author uses a lot of literary means to reach his literary purposes. He uses symbolism and imaginary, to create powerful images, which influence both – mental and emotional sides. Moreover, the novel is an allegory of human life and all parts of the narration are used to explain deep philosophical and epistemological concepts. Different artistic means help Melville create both – an outstanding work of literary art and deep philosophical investigation of human nature and the external world.

Works Cited

McSweeny, Kerry. Moby Dick, Ishmael’s Mighty Book. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986. 

Melvillle, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Hendricks House, 1962. 

Porter, Carolyn. “Call Me Ishmael or How to Make Double Talk Speak.” New Essays on Moby Dick. Ed. Richard Brodhead. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,  1986. 

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]
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