What are the similarities between the story of Moby Dick and Jonah the prophet in the Bible (who was swallowed by a big fish)?Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The similarities between Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, and the story of Jonah in the Bible center around the whale, and the faith of the two protagonists.
In the story of Moby Dick, the major conflict revolves around Captain Ahab and his obsession to kill the white whale, Moby Dick, who maimed him the last time they confronted one another. Ahab is named after a wicked Biblical king in the Old Testament. Ahab is a Quaker—allegedly a man of God—and is supposed to be a pacifist (peacemaker), but has turned his back on his faith. He has lost sight of everything but killing the whale who he sees as the personification of evil. His unhealthy preoccupation with destroying the whale ultimately brings about the death of the entire crew, except for Ishmael.
In the story of Jonah, he, too, is a man of God. He has been called by God to go speak to the people of Nineveh. Jonah did not want to do so, so in essence, he too turned his back on God and boarded a boat to take him in the opposite direction. Soon a storm assaulted the boat, and Jonah, sure that he was the reason for the danger the ship was in, convinced the ship's crew to throw him overboard in order to save themselves. They did so, and Jonah was swallowed by a great fish (which we would refer to as a "whale.") When he repents, he visits Nineveh, and the people make peace with God and are saved.
Similarities are as follows: both are religious men; each has an experience with a whale; each man turns his back on his faith.
Differences are as follows: both men turn their back on God. Ahab never finds his way back to God and brings about the destruction of the majority of his crew. Jonah, on the other hand, saves the lives of the crew members on his ship and he turns himself around and fulfills God's purpose, saving the people of Nineveh.
While the whale brings about Ahab's death, it is the whale that saves Jonah from drowning.
Melville used many Biblical allusions in the classic tale of Ahab and the white whale Moby Dick.
In his quest to understand the preternatural quality of Moby Dick, Ahab pursues the white whale through the seven seas, for he desires to break through "the pasteboard mask" of the visible object. Almost like his namesake, Ahab seems to worship a false god in his fixation upon capturing the great white whale. Ultimately, however, the "inscrutable malice," that "inscrutable thing... I hate" as Ahab says, the captain of the Pequod is destroyed.
Jonah, a disobedient Jewish prophet who attempts to eschew his divine commission, is cast overbard and swallowed by a whale. But, he is rescued in a marvelous manner, and he is sent to Ninive, the traditional enemy of Israel. There, all have humbled themselves having listened to God's message. When Jonah complains to God about the unexpected success of his mission, he expresses his bitterness because Yahweh, has led the people to repentance rather than having destroyed them. Thus, Jonah stands for a narrow and vindictive mentality, all too common among Jews who, since they were among the chosen people, cultivated an intolerant nationalism.
Captain Ahab, named after a powerful Israelite king, who became quite wicked as he worshipped Baal, the pagan god, and he and his wife Jezibel committed murder, also cultivated an intolerant attitude. Like Jonah, Ahab of Melville's novel, Moby Dick, has a narrow and vindictive mentality towards Moby Dick. For, despite his survival of the first attack by Moby Dick, he wishes to kill the whale in retaliation for the loss of his leg as well as so that he can understand the "inscrutable malice" of the huge creature.