Moby-Dick is an engaging story of a man’s heroic pursuit and fights with a white whale. But the novel has a deeper meaning so that it can be interpreted as having a symbolic significance or an allegorical purpose. Although apparently, it is just a story of adventure on the sea, ending in the destruction of the protagonist and his companions by a sea-monster, the symbolic meaning is not far to seek. The novel symbolizes the conflict between good and evil, which is always going on in this world. Captain Ahab’s crusade against the white whale has been interpreted as the fight of the principle of goodness against the principle of evil symbolized by the white whale, of course, various other interpretations of the story are possible.
The moral conflict that is going on between the good and evil forces of nature has been the subject matter of many great literary works including Shakespeare’s King Lear or Hardy’s Tess of D’urberville. The sea is the symbol of the mystery of the universe is also a very well known symbol. In Moby-Dick, the fight between good and evil takes the form of an enduring enmity between Captain Ahab and the white whale known as Moby- Dick. To captain Ahab, the white whale is wholly evil. The evil nature of the monster became established in Ahab’s mind on the day when one of his legs had been snatched away by the white whale in an encounter. Since then, the white whale had become, in Ahab’s eyes, an incarnation of all those malicious agencies which are a source of suffering for human beings. The three-day chase of the white whale is motivated by Ahab’s vindictiveness. In the final encounter, Ahab and his men are killed (except Ishmael), so that the good is vanquished by evil, as often happens in this world.
It is also possible to see Ahab as a man who figures in a symbolic fable. He is a hero like Beowulf fighting against the dark and terrible forces of nature thus asserting man’s place in nature. Ahab’s strong will is the symbol of man’s indomitable will and courage. Of course, there is some danger in this kind of over-simplification.
The allegorical significance of Moby Dick centers on Ahab and the whale, though it is too mysterious and remote to serve an allegorical purpose though out. Ahab is a man who declares him to be a sovereign individual amid the powers of heaven, hell, and earth. Such a man may perish but as long as he exists, he considers himself as the equal of all the powers of the universe what Ahab seeks is not the actual white whale but a symbolic white whale. But in other words, what Ahab seeks an understanding of the ultimate mystery of the universe. He thinks that there is an inscrutable malice that gives the white whale it’s outrageous strength. By getting at the whale, he wants to get at that mysterious evil power of the universe.
Many critics have seen, Ahab himself as the symbol of evil. According to them, Ahab is guilty of hubris or excessive pride. His alienation from his fellow human beings makes him demonic and egotistical. One critic has seen him as a human embodiment of Lucifer, Satan, and the Devil. He is possessed of all Satan’s pride and energy. The ceremonies in which Ahab and his administer take oath bind them to the pursuit of the white whale is suggestive of the Black Mass. According to this view, Ahab and his men (with the exception of Starbuck) represent a bunch of primitive impulses and practices which the Christian have rejected and excluded.
Like Ahab, the white whale also takes on various symbolic meanings. Ishmael believes that white whale is an impersonal life-force, indifferent to the desires and wishes of human beings. Allegorical interpretations of Ahab-whale conflict have been many-fold. It may be regarded as a struggle between individualism and socialism, between science and nature. But the most plausible interpretation is probably to see the fight as an allegory of the pursuit of absolute truth in this world and the disastrous failure of that pursuit. Symbolically, Ahab is contending with a mysterious entity which has always eluded the grasps of all scientists, thinkers, and philosophers.