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Moby Dick Symbolism

Moby-Dick is an allegorical novel by Herman Melville about the Captain Ahab’s hunt for killing a great white whale that took away his leg. Based on real life event, the novel highlights traits of human and nature. Particularly, it focuses more on the vengeance of Ahab which becomes one of the reasons for his destruction.

If you have read the novel, you will understand what we are talking about. Moby Dick is not just any white whale, it holds a couple of symbolisms. Starting from scholars to different readers, many people have interpreted it with different meanings. And since we have gathered some of them, we felt the need to highlight them and let you know. The symbolisms are not only interesting but also show us real sides of life. Hope this will help you get to know more about the novel and the meaning behind the story.


Ahab’s rival, Moby Dick symbolizes different things including God, nature, fate, and forces beyond human control in particular. Being the antagonist of the captain, it symbolizes impossible works and goals against the free exercises of human will.

Apathy of Nature Towards Human:

Nature is an objective reality that carries no emotions for humans whereas the latter carry different emotions for nature. This is what Moby Dick represents, an apathy of nature towards human. Even though Ahab seeks vengeance on the whale, the latter doesn’t know anything about Ahab.


Moby Dick also symbolizes some divine power of God that we always wish to explore. When it comes to Ahab, it is more of his anger with God than the whale. Many people seek God as a reaction due to unfortunate events they face in life. Similarly, Ahab’s determination to look for whale is also regarded as a reaction due to biting off leg and taking it away. Not just that, it is also viewed as a super power that can never be defeated like the white whale.

Evil power:

Some scholars symbolize Moby Dick as an evil force behind the whale. In the story, Ahab is viewed as the good while whale is the bad which killed him in the final encounter. And we all know that good getting defeated by the bad is not a new news.


Moby Dick has also been symbolized as a karma that makes fate decide action of humans. In this case, Ahab is regarded as the devil who goes ahead to do every possible thing to destroy the whale but gets killed instead.

Mystery of Universe:

The while skin of Moby Dick symbolizes the mystery of universe. Because we don’t see anything apart from the color just like what happens when we think of universe. We can say that the traits of whale is similar to that of universe because of their obscurity which leaves us with several imaginations. Ishmael even admits that it’s the white skin that scares him most.


Author Herman Melville was born in 1819. He grew up during the phase 1820 and the start of Civil War when American dominance of the whaling industry was at peak.Weaving his own experiences being a whaler as well as different contemporary accounts, he created this American masterpiece.

When Melville was young, he was famously inspired by the story of the former captain of the whaler Essex, George Pollard. At the period of a two-year whaling expedition gong across the Pacific, the whaler was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale of 80 tons in November 1820.

There were 20 crew members including Pollard who escaped the sinking whaler in 3 open boats where 5 survived to be rescued in coastline 89 days later. Although, the survivors managed to escape the horrific event but afterwards, it resulted in sickness, starvation, and cannibalism.

Besides this event, Melville also referred to the story of Mocha Dick in the novel. Mocha Dick was a famed whale that was quite similar to Moby Dick. It was often seen off the coast of Chile, close to Mocha Island, in the Pacific Ocean. The author did not only name it after Mocha Dick but also kept the aggressive nature and white skin color similar to Mocha Dick.

Things to know

  • While Captain Ahab and his crew was on the lookout for Moby Dick, the captain shared his experience with the white whale to his crew regarding it taking his leg off.
  • His obsession with getting revenge for this leads him to convincing his crew so that they can help him hunt the whale.
  • There were countless opportunities to turn back and give up the expedition, but the Captain persisted. As a result, his attempt to kill the whale ended up killing himself and all of his crew members, except for Ishmael who is the narrator of the story.
  • Unlike Moby Dick, Mocha Dick was eventually killed the coast of Chile and used for oil.

Wrap up

Moby Dick is not just a dominant symbol of the novel, it’s also one of the most recognizable symbols in the American literature of the 19th century.Although Ahab, Ishmael, and Starbuck understood that the quest was not simply a mission of the Captain’s revenge, instead, it was a small-scale version of all humans’ struggle against power, nature, fate, and death. Ahab had only one goal of the voyage which is the death of Moby Dick, but he didn’t know that it will later become the reason for his murder.

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