Herman Melville, in his epic novel Moby-Dick, utilizes the symbolism of the color of the Great White Whale to demonstrate his theme of duality. However, Captain Ahab tragically had a single mind set towards Moby Dick, as he believed that the whale was the symbol of the world?s evil and had to be destroyed. On the other hand, Ishmael sees that the color white can mean many various and opposing things. It would be dangerous to settle upon any one single meaning. In the chapter, The Whiteness of the Whale, Melville explains the importance of duality of meaning in the world, as opposed to man?s (and Ahab?s) desire to see only one meaning in any one thing. Melville utilizes the symbol of the color white to show us that, no one thing means only one thing. Instead, the color white and the meaning of all things depends upon the experiences and perception of the person viewing that object.
Ahab viewed the White Whale only as the symbol of all evil in the universe, which eventually leads him to his downfall. On the day that Ahab threw his harpoon into the White Whale and Moby Dick ate his leg, Ahab decided that the Great White Whale meant only one thing, evil. From then on Ahab decided that there was something unusual about this whale, as if it had hidden inside him all the evil in the world. Since Moby Dick attacked Ahab, he then had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale and now
identifies with the whale all his bodily woes and all his intellectual and spiritual exasperation?s . For Ahab the White Whale became the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies found in the universe. Ahab?s crazy monomania quest was to destroy these evil forces. After Ahab?s experience with the White Whale he only believed that the whale was a symbol of all evil in the world and he would not rest until it was destroyed. His outlook in seeing the color white having only one meaning, eventually caused his downfall and death by Moby Dick himself.
Ishmael, however, viewed the meaning of the whiteness of the whale is not nearly so singularly focused as Ahab?s rage. He believed that the color of white had many meanings to many persons. Ishmael realized that the color white can represent beauty. Whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls. Another characteristic of the color white is strength, such as that of the polar bear or the great white shark. Ishmael also said the white can mean spirited leadership, such as the great white steeds. Contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions is has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness an power. Unlike Ahab, Ishmael saw the duality in white as he also understood that white could also be awesome, even fearsome, as man gazes across the white wastes of the prairies covered with snow and ice, or the white foaming sea hurled upon the rocky coasts by a frightful storm. To view his ship sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness-as if from encircling headlands shoals of combed white bears. Due to Ishmaels?s ability to view the whiteness of Moby Dick through many viewpoints it secured his survival on the inevitably disastrous voyage of the Pequod.
Melville presents the various meanings of the color white. He shows the reader that no one thing means anything definitely. The meaning of any object comes from in the values the individual brings to that object. Melville says that white can mean both good and terror. Everyone views life through a different set of lenses. The color white can mean a variety of things as explained by Ishmael in the chapter. Melville suggests that all of these things represented in the chapter, Moby Dick could be a symbol of all of them, And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Therefore, the White Whale does not just have just one single meaning as Ahab believed, but instead he is a symbol of almost everything in the universe.
Melville utilizes the symbolism of the Great White Whale to show the danger of viewing life in terms of a simple single view. The color white is used to develop Melville?s theme of duality of meaning. Captain Ahab viewed the Great White Whale as the symbol of all evil in the universe. This faulty view of white and life led to his death. Contrastingly, Ishmael views white in terms of duality of meaning. White means purity, power, and danger. Melville reinforces this more realistic view of life as the more proper in that Ishmael is the sole survivor of the tragically focused voyage. Melville shows us that everyone views life through a different set of lenses, depending on one?s experiences. The color white and in fact the meaning of all things depends on the experiences and perception of the person viewing that object.