That there are various perspectives to the white whale as symbol is a result of the value which Melville
accords the symbol as a medium of expression. Melville regarded the symbol as, what William Gleim
terms, "a means of both revelation and concealment"(402). Visible objects are as masks through
which one can educe universal and significant order. The "eyes are windows"(Melville, 9) through
which one "can see a little into the springs and motives which [are] cunningly presented . . . under
various disguises"(Melville, 5-6). The symbol of the white whale lends itself easily to this concept.
To Ahab, the whale represents the malevolence of nature. To Starbuck, it is a commodity. To
Ishmael, however, it is "portentous and mysterious"(Melville, 6). It rouses his curiosity, but he
recognizes it as a thing remote. It is an "overwhelming idea"(Melville, 6): an idea which is larger
than his consciousness. Its implications surpass his conscious understanding and cause him to feel
significance even if he can not know it.
Melville represents much that one can know about the white whale. Moby Dick is literally an albino
sperm whale. In his categorization of all whales, Melville regards the sperm whale as the primate: "He
is, without a doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe; the most formidable of all whales to encounter;
and lastly, by far the most valuable in commerce"(Melville, 133). The whiteness of the whale enhances
this correspondence in that it has regal associations, "a certain royal pre-eminence in this
hue"(Melville, 184). The white whale, therefore, stands, primarily, as, what Gleim would term, "the
... middle of paper ...
...e organizes and creates commodity and joint stock
existence. Nature, however, is indifferent, and Moby Dick is the symbol of this indifference. Man can
impose perceptions of beauty upon nature and extract commodity from it, but the white whale
represents the absolute negation of these efforts: what Hoffman calls "the everpresent possibility
of cosmic nothingness"(271).
Hoffman, Daniel. Form and Fable in American Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Hughes, Charles. "Man Against Nature: Moby Dick and `The Bear'." DAI 32:5230 A (Texas Tech).
Gleim, William. "A Theory of Moby Dick." New England Quarterly, II (1929), 402-408.
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. 1855; rpt., New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966.
Sedgwick, William. Herman Melville: The Tragedy of the Mind. New York: Russell and Russell, 1944.
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