Characters and Themes in Moby Dick
Moby Dick is written by Herman Melville and many critics agree that it’s the masterpiece of Melville. The main characters in the novel are Ishmael, Ahab, Starbuck and the white whale—Moby Dick. Different
characters have different characteristics.
The novel describes a story a story happening in a whale ship in the South Pacific Ocean. The narrator, Ishmael, is a sailor on the ship”Pequod”. The novel is full of symbols, suggesting endless meanings, and the symbol of whiteness is, among other things, a dominate one.
As for the obsessed captain—Ahab, the novel tells a story of revenge.
He lost one of his legs in one conflict with Moby Dick, so he vows to find Moby Dick to revenge from then on, and hunting for the white whale, killing the white whale becomes the only aim in his life. Captain Ahab is a superman in mind although he’s disabled in body. His desire of killing
Moby Dick leads him to seduce his crews with a golden coin, which in consequence, leads him and his crews (except the narrator, the only survivor, Ishmael) to lose their lives in the adventure of whaling. Ahab, probably, is a hero according to some ancient customs, because people think his action of hunting Moby Dick is for the sake of other people.
The captain is strong and brave enough to gather people to hunt for the white whale. Even though he has lost one of his legs, he’s still brave
to fight against the white whale, regardless of being hurt again. In addition, Ahab is certain to have the abilities to call on people and instruct them to accomplish a task. However, on the other hand, as a member of the nature world, he’s totally wrong. His overconfidence, arrogance and ignorance of the nature’s force inevitably lead him to death. Besides, he’s
too crazy to control himself, as a result. He coaxes the crews to fight against the white whale together with him, never considering their safety and their will. His struggle against the whale is usually considered as human beings’ struggle with nature. Nevertheless, whoever tries to rebel the nature will be punished.
Moby Dick, the white whale, possesses various symbolic meanings according to different individuals. In my opinion, Moby Dick may symbolize the free will. Although the readers have no access to its thoughts, feelings or intentions, it truly represents free will. As is written in the novel, the white whale can swim in the blue ocean freely and it seems that it can hardly be the surface of the ocean, is only available for human observation and interpretation on the surface, while its depths still remain unknown to people. To some further extent, the readers usually treat the whale as nature or something out of control or God.
The whale ship—Pequod, also has its symbolic meaning. The ship is named after a Native American tribe in Massachusets that did not long survive the arrival of white men and thus memorializing extinction. The
Pequod is also a symbol of doom. It’s painted a gloomy black but covered
in white whale teeth and bones, literally bristling with mementos of violent death. It is, in fact, marked for death. Furthermore, at the beginning, the whale ship looks like an island full of equality and unity. People from different parts of the world gather on the ship, holding the same purpose. But later, contradiction shows up. There are obvious differences between the whites and nonwhites. For example, the captain, Ahab, is a man with white color. Apparently, he has the right to order other crews. Even Starbuck is unlikely to persuade him to give up the revenge to Moby Dick. Besides, the white people on the ship never do any dirty or dangerous jobs, while they often ask the nonwhites to do such things, and they often it for granted.
Moby Dick is a highly symbolic novel and the characters in the novel have their own symbolic meanings. When considering the symbolic meanings, we should keep in mind that human beings must treat the nature mildly and gently; we can not neglect the forces of the nature, otherwise, we’re surly punished. What’s more, we should treat people
equally whether they’re white or not.