What is the connection between the idea of madness and the image of the ocean in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick?

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lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although some have characterized Moby Dick as "just another fishing story", it is in truth a novel that below the surface, is much more intricately woven and layered than that.  Among other explorations of human nature and the nature of God, Melville uses the ocean as a metaphor for the human mind in general, and Ahab's obsession in particular; only the surface is truly available for one to ponder, and what is beneath the surface is vast and unseen.  It is a source of frustration and irritation to Ishmael that this is so, particularly when Melville extends the metaphor to the great white whale, which, despite its size, is largely unseen most of the time.  Ishmael's attempts to dissect and deconstruct the whale create more, rather than less confusion for him on its true state of being, and some interpret his frustrated and unsuccessful attempts to understand the component parts of the whale as being metaphorical to man's attempts to deconstruct and understand the very nature of God.