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What symbolic meaning does the white whale have in Moby Dick? 

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kalajsfinest | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 4, 2008 at 6:57 AM via web

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What symbolic meaning does the white whale have in Moby Dick

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dkeo1515 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 4, 2008 at 2:38 PM (Answer #1)

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Moby Dick is full of symbolism.  Moby Dick is an impersonal force that can represent God or Ahab's futile quest for vengeance.  Since we cannot read its thoughts and feelings, Moby Dick is inscrutable.  Ahab is unable to defeat the great white whale, and it consistently thwarts Ahab's quest.  This ties in as a symbol of God.  God's will is inscrutable.  There is also physical manifestation of this inscrutability.  For most of the novel, we are unable to see the whole whale, most of it is hidden in the depts of the ocean.  This inability to really see the whale or to really understand the whale can be seen as humanity's relationship with God.

The crew are an interesting lot.  Ishmael, the narrator, is the only member of the crew with an education.  The rest of the crew are working-class men with little to no education.  Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask are also symbolic.  Starbuck is a religious man.  He prays to God for guidance and relies on his faith to make sense of his world.  Stubb keeps a cool head in a crisis.  He has been working and surviving on a whaling ship for so long that the danger of death has little meaning for him.  He is a fatalist.  Flask enjoys the thrill of the hunt.  He does not live an examined life.  All three characters emphasize Ahab's character traits.  Ahab's actions are the opposite of each of these three characters.

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imwithgod | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 17, 2009 at 8:38 AM (Answer #2)

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in relation with dkeo1515 she said that the whale symbolizes God...then is it a nature of God to fight back when He's been attack by these whale hunters?? there's a conflict between the whale and ahab. and yeah, i can't figure it out. it's man vs nature right. if moby dick represent MYSTERY then what ahab symbolizes?need help

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 23, 2013 at 6:42 PM (Answer #3)

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The white whale, Moby Dick, is associated with both good and evil, with nature and with God. The whale symbolizes opposition (to Ahab) and mystery (living in the wild and dark sea). The whale may even be seen to represent the limits of man to control this wildness of the natural world.

As an aspect of nature, Moby Dick is aligned with the glory and beauty of nature as well as the danger and power of nature. 

The whiteness of the whale is given consideration in its own chapter.

In this particular chapter, Ishmael meditates on the strange phenomenon of whiteness, which sometimes speaks of godly purity and at other times repels or terrorizes with its ghostly pallor. The meditation leaves color references behind to become a general meditation on the nature of fear and the existence of unseen evil: “Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.” (eNotes)

In addition to being associated with the forces of invisible chaos beneath the surface of the sea, the whale is strongly identified with God. The whale is both one of God's creatures in the novel and a representative for the very idea of God and the idea of a natural order with God at its peak/top. 

Ahab resists and rebels against the natural order, willing to go against any force that would take from him his own free will.

To Ahab it does not matter if the white whale is “agent” or “principle.” He will fight against fate, rather than resign himself to a divine providence. (eNotes) 

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