Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick

The White Whale Symbol Analysis

The White Whale Symbol Icon
Moby Dick, or the White Whale, is not just the dominant symbol of the novel Moby Dick—he is also one of the most recognizable symbols in 19th-century American literature. At various points throughout the novel, Ishmael and other characters compare Moby Dick directly to a god—an all-powerful, seemingly unstoppable being, one that cannot be defeated, and who imposes its desires on the world around it. Ishmael, Ahab, and Starbuck (the “least courageous” and most doubting of the ship’s mates) understand that the search for Moby Dick is not simply a mission of vengeance—although it is that, in part. They believe, instead, that the hunt is a microcosm of all humans’ struggle against nature, fate, and death itself. The crew remarks on this apparent symbolism—that the whale-hunt stands in for a life of human struggle—throughout the journey, as Ahab disregards typical whaling protocol, and announces explicitly that the goal of the voyage is the death of one whale. That Moby Dick escapes at the end of the novel, killing everyone aboard the Pequod except Ishmael, further indicates that the Whale cannot be defeated, cannot be tamed or even understood. Witnesses, prophets, and missionaries will continue to make “pilgrimages” to the White Whale in order to see it, to believe in it, and to wonder at its terrible power.

The White Whale Quotes in Moby-Dick

The Moby-Dick quotes below all refer to the symbol of The White Whale. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Limits of Knowledge Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Moby-Dick published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless procession of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 36 Quotes

It’s a white whale, I say . . . a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out.

Related Characters: Ahab (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 42 Quotes

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation? . . . Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color . . . is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows . . . ?

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 68 Quotes

O, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. . . . retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 71 Quotes

Think, think of thy whale-boat, stoven and sunk! Beware of the horrible tail!

Related Characters: Gabriel (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 100 Quotes

He’s welcome to the arm he has, since I can’t help it, and didn’t know him then; but not to another one. No more White Whales for me; I’ve lowered for him once, and that has satisfied me.

Related Characters: Boomer (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 482
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 133 Quotes

Men, this gold is mine, for I earned it; but I shall let it abide here till the White Whale is dead; and then, whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man’s, and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away now!

Related Characters: Ahab (speaker), Moby Dick
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 602
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 135 Quotes

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Related Symbols: The White Whale
Page Number: 624
Explanation and Analysis:

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