Upon finishing Moby Dick, it is very easy to see that there are countless symbols that appear time and time again. Each one seems to have a much deeper meaning that allows us to further our understanding of the Novel and Melville’s message. One particular motif that seems to be very distinct throughout is the constant mention of the ‘whiteness’ of the whale throughout the novel. The idea of whiteness is so prominent that there is even a whole chapter devoted to “The Whiteness of the Whale” (chapter 42). In this chapter, Ishmael finally explains what exactly Moby Dick Means to him and specifically mentions how it was the sheer whiteness of the whale that appalled him. In addition, Ishmael interestingly discusses how although ‘whiteness’ is usually universally considered to represent “enhancing beauty” and is a symbol of virtue, nobility, and racial superiority but yet, Ishmael believes this is not that case. This idea is interesting because Ishmael shines a completely new light on an idea that is still widely accepted.
The actual color of ‘whiteness’ is created using all the colors of the spectrum when it passes through some sort of prism. This brings forward a very interesting point as Ishmael distinctively notes the great whiteness of Moby Dick. Perhaps using the idea of ‘whiteness’ as a representation of Moby, Ishmael is suggesting that Moby Dick, real or fake, is created through all of the stories and tales (colors) passed on by ‘witnesses’ (prisms). This suggests the idea that Moby Dick is only as powerful and great as one believes it to be. Like ‘whiteness’, which would not exist without all of the other colors, the magnificence of Moby Dick would not exist without word of mouth.
This idea of a true hazy idea of what Moby Dick really is can further be strengthened in in the chapters where Ishmael reflects in his narrative digressions that define and describe whales. Despite writing long and exhaustive explanations, Ishmael still fails to completely capture the nature of the whale. Even when a whale washes up in front of Ishmael, our whaling expert, he still fails to confidently identify the parts. As Ishmael continues to analyze his outlook on the ‘whiteness’ of Moby Dick, he further expresses his negative feelings towards whiteness because it represents the “unnatural albinos,” creatures who live in extreme environments, and who Ishmael looks down upon.
As stated above, Ishmael’s ideas of whiteness are very interesting because they reverse the traditional association of whiteness with good and purity. Whiteness represents both a lack of meaning and an excess of meaning that both confuse people. Moby dick is considered the ultimate example of whiteness and yet, none of the characters can truly understand the “Great White Whale.” Moby Dick seems to have varying symbolic meanings to each of the crewmembers; Ahab believes that Moby Dick represents evil whereas others view Moby Dick as simply a job or a bad omen. Perhaps this varying idea of Moby Dick relates back to the idea that Moby Dick represents God and that the true idea of God is something that is widely debated throughout history. Furthermore, the presence of ‘whiteness’ also comes into play, as traditionally God is synergic with the color white.
Although there are countless instances of symbolism found throughout Moby Dick, I distinctly remembered the comparisons of ‘whiteness.’ I found it interesting that so many of Ishmael’s beliefs contrast with numerous widely accepted ideas found in both the past and todays world. Everything, from his religious beliefs to his simple opinion of the color white, all seem to contrast with social norms. Perhaps, this is the reason why Ishmael felt so strongly that he had to leave society and find adventure at sea. Maybe it was because he felt so out of place in what was ‘normal society’ that he felt compelled to leave his old life to create a completely new adventure.