Find a figure of speech in one of the excerpts from Moby-Dick: then paraphrase it... please i need help with this... thank you

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “The Whiteness of the Whale,” chapter 42, Melville addresses the philosophical and existential problem the color white poses, and specifically, what it is that the White Whale symbolizes. He writes (with some figures of speech in bold):

And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues—every stately or lovely emblazoning—the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge—pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear coloured and colouring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him.

The point of this sentence, and indeed the whole chapter, is to suggest that reality, as our senses percieve it, is a lie. Specifically, since the colors we see are just reflections of white light, or whatever light that is not absorbed by an object, then our perception of things is not really of the thing itself, but a kind of visual trick. The fact that this is true of the “gilded velvets” of butterflies or the “butterfly cheeks” of young girls (both metaphors) strikes at things we hold most lovely and dear. A young girl’s blush, or what we see as her blush, is not her blush at all, but simply a trick dependent on the ability of her skin to absorb a particular part of the visible spectrum of light.

This “trick” makes Nature “like the harlot,” a simile that conflates “Nature”—Nature in the transcendental sense, i.e., a sort of grand union of physical and spiritual—with prostitution and painted faces, or cheap cosmetic tricks designed to provide the illusion of beauty. One this enormous truth is understood, the entire universe is changed. The “palsied” universe is a “leper,” a disgusting, diseased creature. Melville’s use of the metaphor here rhetorically underscores his point: the universe is a leper. Given this truth, those that apprehend it (the “wretched infidels”) are “like willful travelers in Lapland”; that is, people who insist on traveling in bright snow-covered landscapes without eye protection. They become blinded by the “white shroud” that “wraps all." In other words, the ubiquitous nature of white light is “blinding” both in a literal sense (as in Lapland) and figuratively (since the colors by which we understand the world are, in fact, simply an illusion).

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 36, Captain Ahab comes upon the quarter-deck and calls for all the sailors to come onto the deck, as well.  Gathering the crew around him, he admits to them that the pursuance of Moby Dick, who has taken his leg from him, is the purpose of his voyage.  The good first mate, Starbuck, is dismayed at Ahab's wish for vengeance upon "a dumb brute," but Ahab's apprehension of the great white whale, an aberration of nature itself, is much more.  When Starbuck tells Ahab,

"Vengeance on a dumb brute!...that simply smote thee from blinds instinct!  Madness!  To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."

"Hark ye yet again, the little lower layer.  All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks [metaphor].  But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!  How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?  To me, the white whale is that wall shoved near to me.  Sometimes I think there's naught beyond.  But, 'tis enough.  he tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.  That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.  Talk not to me of blasphemy, man, I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.  For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations.  ...Who's over me?  Truth hath no confines.

An anti-Transcendentalist, Herman Melville felt that nature was not always sympathetic to man; there was, he believed a malevolence in it.  The white whale, hideous in its oddity, is a force of evil behind its "pasteboard mask."  Ahab seeks what is behind this "mask"; he seeks the universal truth and explanation of malice that is in nature.