Describe how Moby Dick is a symbol in the novel Moby Dick:  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Moby Dick’s symbolic meaning is hard to pin down, and the indeterminateness of it is in large part the point of Melville’s novel. There are a few things we can say for sure:

  1. Moby Dick is, firstly, the object of Ahab’s vengeance. The whale bit off his leg, and in so doing represents for Ahab the essential hostility of nature towards man.
  2. Alternatively, Moby Dick represents the blankness or indifference of nature towards man. That is, while Ahab may seek vengeance on the whale, the whale itself doesn’t know anything about Ahab.
  3. The whale can be seen as an avatar of God or some divine power. In this case, Ahab’s revenge is more cosmic in scope; his quarrel is with God, not the whale.
  4. The whale can be seen as symbolic of a certain lack of meaning – however much we want to assign significance to reality, the whale symbolizes how “inscrutable” reality truly is.

And so forth. Some key chapters to look at where this idea of symbolism is developed are “The Whiteness of the Whale,” Chapter 42, or “The Quarterdeck,” Chapter 36. Good luck!

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team