Lincoln Blogs

Symbolism in ‘Moby-Dick’: Brilliance Between the Lines
October 30, 2008, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Books, School Papers

There are a number of important symbols in the famous Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The story is told somewhat allegorically, with each character or object in the tale having its own meaning. Among these things are the whaling ship the Pequod, which symbolizes doom, Moby-Dick the whale, which stands for contradiction and the uncontrollable things in life, and a sailor’s coffin, which represent both life and death. All of these symbols are used brilliantly by Melville, and help the reader to understand the meaning of the book.

One of the important symbols is the Pequod, a whaling ship that is captained by Captain Ahab. Ahab’s mission in life is to kill the great white whale, Moby-Dick, who had once taken Ahab’s leg. In the story, the Pequod is in the hunt for Moby-Dick, an effort which is destined to fail. The ship’s very name depicts failure, as it is named for an Indian tribe in Massachusetts that did not survive after the arrival of the white men. Painted a morbid black and adorned with whale bones and teeth, the ship contains images of death everywhere the sailors look. It is decorated like a coffin, and that is what it eventually becomes.

The next example of symbolism in Moby-Dick is Moby-Dick itself. Moby-Dick is a great white whale whom Ahab has been unable to kill for years. We learn that it once took off Ahab’s leg, for which the captain has always hated him. One of things it represents is everything in the world that is random and uncontrollable. In a way, it simply stands for nature. It is massive and destructive, but nonetheless beautiful and awe-inspiring. It cannot be stopped or controlled by the sailors, like a violent storm, yet there is a sense of wonder about him, like a beautiful sunset. Moby-Dick’s color is also symbolic. It is white, which expresses contradictions. White is used to signify purity and goodness, but also emptiness. Each member of the crew has his own view of the whale; some are afraid, others are amazed, and Ahab is hateful.

Another symbol used in Melville’s classic is a coffin that belongs to Queequeg, a sailor on the Pequod. It’s meaning changes from death to life as the book progresses. Queequeg first has the coffin built when he is seriously ill and fears death. However, when Queequeg recovers, he uses it as a chest to store his possessions. It is later rigged as a life buoy, representing life for the sailors on the Pequod. When the ship sinks and Ishmael, a sailor on the Pequod and the narrator of the story, uses the coffin to stay afloat, it ends up saving not only his life, but the life of the tale.

Moby-Dick, a priceless, timeless piece of literature by Herman Melville, contains deep symbolism that helps the reader understand the meaning of the book. Melville uses the Pequod to symbolize doom, Moby-Dick to symbolize random and uncontrollable nature, and Queequeg’s coffin to symbolize first death, then life. Without these symbols, Moby-Dick is good read. With them, it is a though provoking masterpiece that has been enjoyed by several generations, and will be enjoyed by many more to come.

John Locke and Natural Rights
October 20, 2008, 3:38 pm
Filed under: History, School Papers

John Locke was an English philosopher who lived in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; his beliefs and writings helped bring about the American Revolution. A devout protestant, Locke strongly believed in the natural rights of man. His basic thesis maintained that in a state of nature, men have a “perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of law and nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.” He professed the idea that man has a natural right to life, to liberty, and to property, and he justified his beliefs on the foundation of natural law. Locke’s view of natural law was simple: there are certain laws whose content is set in nature by God and that have validity everywhere.

Locke believed in the natural rights of man, but he also believed in the sin nature of man, which is why he saw the need for government. He said that we should have government because due to the “corruption and viciousness of degenerate men” they would not be able to defend their rights. Without government, man’s sin nature would overcome their sense of natural law, and their rights would be exploited for evil. “The great chief end” for men to have government “is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of nature there are many things wanting,” he wrote. It was his strong opinion that men should give up as much power as is needed to defend themselves in exercising their natural rights, an idea called the “social contract theory.” His beliefs on government can be summarized in the following statement:

“[The] freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man; as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.”

John Locke’s writings were extremely influential in bringing about the American Revolution. The list of his major works includes An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, and Two Treatises on Government. Clearly, he was highly knowledgeable in many fields. Two Treatises on Government, perhaps his most famous work, had a great impact on many of America’s founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and others. As mentioned above, he wrote of man’s right to “life, liberty, and property,” a belief that is also explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence. His social contract theory, promotion of governmental separation of powers, and belief that revolution is a right had a significant effect in bringing about the American Revolution against England, as well as in writing the Constitution of the United States.