Moby Dick by Herman Melville: Essay Analysis

The book ‘Moby- Dick’ written by Herman Melville is a story whose setting is mostly at sea and talks of interactions between sailors and encounters with whales. In the 41st chapter, the author in the first voice tells of the oaths that the sailors have taken against Moby Dick to hunt down and kill him. This paper also seeks to discuss the themes encompassed within this chapter among other literary aspects that are included.

The chapter opens with Ishmael narrating the oathing ceremony that the sailors had undertaken after their captain, Ahab, had lost a leg and poor medical service caused by the long-distance from land made him lose his mind. As Ishmael introduces us further to life at sea, themes such as superstition stand out but the central theme of this chapter comes out as folly.
“With greedy ears, I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.” Pg 278

Throughout the entire chapter as the sailors were learning more of the history of Moby Dick, truths were revealed about what they were against and although most of the information lay majorly on superstitions and had gruesome details, none of the sailors who took the oath are mentioned to have cowered. This kind of service to a man turned delirious by the consuming rage he felt at Moby Dick was quite remarkable. “Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale around the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals…” Pg 290

In other parts of the novel, the same kind of blinded commitment is shown by the crew of the ship that Ahab was captaining. Throughout the months they spent at sea the sailors. The long-time spent away from civilization turned the men into superstitious beings, especially when it came to Moby Dick. This made it very easy for Ahab who stands out as an ungodly person, to convince the sailors that their destiny lay in going after the whale. The folly got in when the sailors lived just for whaling and nothing more and thus they became gullible as they remained fixed on the one thing they could do well. Melville brings out the egalitarian aspect of the sailors through the population found onboard the Pequod since men are paid and promoted according to their skills and not on their place of origin.

In the 41st chapter, Melville brings out symbolism through different means. Moby Dick has been portrayed as having different symbolic meanings for individuals who are part of the crew and ass well as other seamen in different ships. To some sailors, Moby Dick was a symbol that helped them face their fears and deal with them while for others it was a point of reverence at the immortality of Moby Dick.

“…it cannot be much mat­ter of surprise that some whalemen should go still further in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiqui­tous but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that though groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed…” Pg 284

The case for Ahab is, however, different as Moby Dick represents a supernatural evil that consumes him into a state of supernatural revenge after the whale dismembered him.
“He was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge.” Pg 290

The chapter being analyzed can also be interpreted as allegorical, where the white whale is depicted as a symbol of an eternal being or God. This is evident since the sailors seem to think that the whale is invincible, almost godlike in his presence.

“We find some book naturalists—Olassen and Povelson—declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be consternation to every other creature in the sea but also to be so incredibly fe­rocious as continually to be athirst for human blood.” Pg 282

This quotation has different angles to it. Moby Dick was a threat that led the sailors to lean on him to find out and understand how he lived at sea and what the other sailors made of him. This not only shows a certain degree of trepidation on the sailors’ side and even though they had taken an oath to go after the whale, they were faced by truths in books about the nature of their ‘enemy’. Symbolically, the source of consternation to every other creature in the sea can well be conceptualized as the evils that ran all over the world at the time of racism of slavery and growth from industrial developments that led to economic progress. Through this quotation, Melville gives an insight into the related terror that crude action had on the people on land. He literary equates it to the sperm whale that consumed all, including the seemingly superior species of animals. In the same manner, the vices on land would consume all people without bias.


Melville’s Moby Dick is an interesting book that presents the life of the sailors and the various superstitions and beliefs that they have. The above analysis of chapter 41 of the book reveals that the main theme in the chapter is folly and superstition, which is displayed by all the characters in the sea. The analysis also discusses the literary styles used in the chapter, the main ones being symbolism and allegory.


Work Cited
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick, 1981. Bantam Classics. Print.

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