Symbolic Elements in Moby Dick
There is a symbolic element in every great literary work, which makes the author's message more tangible and real to his readers. In Herman Melville's Moby Dick, one such element is the idea of the "counterpane," or tapestry, of humanity, that is woven throughout the story as a symbol of the world's multiculturalism. Melville develops this symbolism on at least three levels, proving that the world is indeed a counterpane of diverse cultures, races, and environments, in which we, while supremely unique individuals, are always connected by our humanity.
On a grandiose scale, Melville uses the open sea as a metaphor for the world and mankind. There are many creatures that depend on the water, and then still others who depend on the creatures that depend on the water. In order for everything to be balanced, inhabitants must learn to coexist peacefully while they try to meet all of the different needs they may have. The multiple ships that the Pequod meets during all of the gams in the story, each represented a different culture of people. For instance, the Jungfrau (or Virgin), was a ship from Germany, while the Rosebud was from France, and the Town Ho came straight out of Nantucket. Not only were the different ships different in style and accents, but their views on whaling and life were all greatly varied as well. There was also a great deal of irony in the meetings of the Pequod with the other ships. " . . . another homeward bound whaleman, the Town - Ho, was encountered. She was manned almost wholly by Polynesians" (Melville, 239). The ship that came from one of the most "white" places in the whaling world, was not being run by whites! The Pequod also encounters " . . . another ship, most miserably misnamed the Delight" (Melville, 504). The Delight had seen a tragic whaling attempt just a day prior and was now taking care of the last of the victims. " 'I bury, but one of five stout men, who were alive only yesterday; but were dead ere night. Only that one I bury; the rest were buried before they died; you sail upon their tomb' " (Melville, 504 - 505). This irony, clearly present in all the Pequod's gams, reflects mankind. The multiculturalism of all the different ships proved that we as humans, are all connected by the idea that sometimes we will have to rely on people we would never expect, while those we thought could survive anything are the first to be lost.
" . . . Melville's novel becomes a conglomeration of thoughts on evil verses good, the role of fate, the tension between Christianity and paganism, in addition to a multitude of other subjects" (Chiu, 1). The crew of the Pequod is by far the most obvious counterpane in Moby Dick. Each crew member was different in his own way and brought some diverse culture and background to the ship. The three non - white harpooners, the three mates, who were white, but each held their own different beliefs about life, and the other members of the crew, such as...