Religious Imagery in Moby Dick

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is a novel that uses many forms of religious imagery. Through the adventure of captain Ahab in his search of Moby Dick it describes the battle between the evil powers of the Devil against the good powers of God and Jesus. In this metaphor, the Devil is in Captain Ahab, God is in nature, Jesus is seen in Moby Dick, and mankind is represented by the crew of the Pequod. The voyage of the Pequod represents the journey of mankind on earth until the death of Jesus.

“As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and from, in their front, the harpooners wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.” (Melville 463)

This quote shows that the Devil is in Captain Ahab,. The entire quote shows his manipulation of his crew. Words like “flames,” “blackness,” “howled,” and “huge pronged forks” turn the Pequod into a habitation of evil spirits. The influence of the commander can be seen upon these innocent men, whose only mistakes were failing to see the truth behind Ahab’s insane mission. The same idea is stated in Kyle Kombrink’s essay “A Passionate Soul in Hell.” Kombrink writes, “The mind set of the captain is then carried over to his crew, so to be unified under a hierarchical structure.

His madness becomes their dread and becomes the drive in all on board. The savage comes out in them all.” The word savageness shows a hatred of religious morality. Therefore, the men are unholy as they stand on board of their ship that is laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into the blackness of darkness. All the momentum built up by the rushing of the ship towards the unnamed goal reaches its peak in the last statement , in which we realize that the aspects of the crew are exaggerated about in order to describe something much more evil – the insanity of Ahab himself.

Although his insanity is similar to the appearance of the crew in this excerpt, the meaning is better described in another sentence: “he was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge.” (Melville 202) The purpose of Ahab’s mission is simply that of revenge. It is the same as the case with Satan who never recovered from being thrown out of heaven.

In the first passage there seems to be glimpses of all the characters in Moby Dick. The wind, which is the power behind the ship, its crew, and even Ahab himself can be understood as a representation of God, who is the mastermind of everything. The white bone on which the Pequod chomps might signify the final goal of the captain, which would be for Ahab to chomp on the bones of his destroyed enemy, Moby Dick.

“The hand of fate had snatched all their souls; and by the stirring perils of the previous day; the rack of the past night’s suspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in which their wild craft went plunging towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts were bowled along. The wind that made great bellied sails, and rushed the vessel on by arms invisible as irresistible; this seemed the symbol of that unseen agency which so enslaved them to the race,” (Melville 606)

This quote shows that God is represented by nature. The wind is the force of God that guides the souls of the men. But it is not only a word found inside of Moby Dick it is also found in the Bible. “When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind in the spirit of God sweeping over the water – God said, ‘Let there be light…'” (Genesis 1:1-3) As you can see the wind is a representation of God in the first lines of the book of Genesis also.

The wind from these lines can be compared with the stars in other lines and the ocean in even more. Imagery of Nature seems to be used in the book to represent the force of God. At one point along the voyage, Ishmael takes, “the mystic ocean…for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature.” (Melville 172-3) All of these images come out to be the idea of God as a giant, unstoppable force who sweeps God’s power across every corner of the universe.

The image of a peaceful ocean is countered by the fact that God is seen in the wild power of nature also. An example of this type of imagery is seen in this representation of the ocean: “Panting and snorting like a mad battle steed that has lost its rider, the uncontrollable ocean overruns the globe.” (Melville 299) This same image of a wild horse is used by God in the Book of Job to represent God’s untamable power. A God which can be both loved and feared invites the idea that God not only distributes blessings upon God’s people, but curses as well.

“Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these; and knowing that after repeated, intrepid assaults, the White Whale had escaped alive; it cannot but much matter of surprise that some whalers 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; or if indeed he should ever be made to spout thick blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception; for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues ways, his unsullied jet would once more be seen.” (Melville 198)

Moby Dick, the White Whale, is understood by the whalers, in this quote, as being immortal. The metaphor ,Jesus is seen in Moby Dick, shows this to be true. To begin with, just the reference to Moby Dick as the White Whale is enough. Unlike any other whale in the ocean, Moby Dick is white, a color which appears to be good. The color white is seen as a symbol for the qualities of holiness and pureness. The spiritual leaders always appear robed in white, and Jesus, being spiritual as well as human, is associated with this color as well. Jesus’ clothes during the transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew, become, “as white as the light.” (Matt. 17:2) Also, the fact that Melville capitalizes the words white whale seem to show the possibility of a religious interpretation.

The whalers proclaim Moby Dick to be immortal, in spite of this the whalers continue their attacks against him to destroy him. This could be similar to the persecution of Christ through his years as a teacher, which succeeded in his death. The groves of spears in the flank of the whale might be symbols of the crown of thorns, the nails in the hands and feet, and the spear in the side of Jesus as well. The difference between the two stories is that Jesus, unlike Moby Dick, was killed by his enemies. However, he could not be made to spout thick blood. After descending into hell he rose on the third day into heaven. In those three days, exactly the same length of time which Ahab and Moby Dick fought, Jesus fought and destroyed death. In light of his resurrection, the death of Jesus Christ was a deception, because, like the White Whale, he is immortal.

There are several other passages in Moby Dick which suggest the possibility that Moby Dick could be a metaphor for the figure of Christ. One example is used when talking about whales in general. However, the idea can be applied to Moby Dick. The passage reads, “Whales must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches…” (Melville 391) This statement shows the comparison between the whale and the claim made by Christians that Jesus had to submit to death at the hands of mankind in order to rise and become a light for the world. The word light can be used for both the whale and Jesus, as they illuminate the world in different ways.

“…it is a thing most sorrowful, nay, shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men many have mean and meager faces; and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far in us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars.” (Melville 126)

The issue this quote deals with is the fall of a man’s soul from valor to ruin. By using the metaphor, mankind is represented by the crew, this quote can be applied to the entire crew of the Pequod, other than Ishmael because his soul doesn’t fall. The crew seems to take on a large responsibility and become the representatives of mankind. This quote can be understood as referring to the crew of the Pequod and mankind itself.

The fall which Melville is talking about here might be the same type of fall that happened to Adam and Eve, who are the first of all of mankind in the Bible. It is the fall of souls who once seemed immaculate and glowing creatures, made in the likeness of God, but who chose to act against God’s will in disobedience. For Adam and Eve, this disobedience was eating the forbidden apple. For Starbuck and his crew this disobedience can be seen in following Ahab. The significance of the actions of the crew become possible if the character of Ahab is interpreted as the Devil and the figure of the White Whale is interpreted as Jesus Christ. So by the crew following Ahab in his quest to destroy the White Whale, the crew seems to be not only disobeying God, but revolting against God.

This fall is astonishing, because of the glory which is in all human beings, but, men are also created with free will, and the choice of evil is always possible. Once accepted, the result is a fall from valor to ruin. The most sorrowful thing is not freely chosen but is tempted by the Devil. Although man is divine, it takes Christ to combat the size of such an opponent. Just as Eve cannot refuse the charming words of the serpent, Starbuck cannot resist the force of captain Ahab: “…brave as he might be,” Melville writes, “Starbuck cannot withstand those more terrific, because more spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.” (Melville 126)

Mankind has fallen victim to the manipulations of the Devil. At the end of the crew’s final encounter with Moby Dick after three days of battle, only one person is thought of as being worthy of forgiveness and is saved. So, we see Ishmael floating on top of a coffin at the end of the book, which may signify the rising of the dead for the second coming of the lord.

Through the use of a complex metaphor the religious imagery in Melville’s Moby Dick has been revealed. It is easy to see why the novel is hard to understand. It is sometimes more complicated than the Bible itself. It can also seem as long as the bible too.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy: Review

In Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Hardy shows his views on religion and commitment to the Church which were said to have declined in the latter years of his life. (Ingham, xxvii) Throughout the book Hardy displays his feeling that religion is something that people use in order to satisfy themselves by giving their lives’ meaning. One instance in which Hardy clearly displays this is when he writes, “It had been the yearning of his heart to find something to anchor on, to cling to.” (Ingham, 94)

In order to bring out this point Hardy chooses to create Jude as an orphan and has him come from obscure origins. By doing this he creates a character who is looking for something to give him an identity. As a result of his relationship with Mr. Phillotson (who leaves for Christminster in order to become ordained), he finds religion and feels that he can use it to help him gain an identity.

Hardy feels that people should shy away from their old ways of thinking and begin to form new opinions of their own. He feels that people should not just blindly follow religion without deciding for themselves that this is what they want. People should not be as Jude who becomes obsessed with religion simply because his mentor Phillotson felt this way. One of the major reasons that causes Hardy to have these views is that he feels religion leads to hypocrisy. He feels that man has many desires that go against the laws of religion, and these desires lead man to feel very hypocritical. These feelings of hypocrisy then cause man to have many inner conflicts that lead to many problems.

This negativity towards religion is seen both through symbols in the book and in the plot itself. The symbols that convey this message are the name Jude, which is an allusion to Judas Iscariot who was a traitor to Jesus. The name Jude can also be a reference to the wandering Jew. The second symbol is Christminster. Christminster symbolizes a world in which Jude sees how remarkable the Church is, but it is a place that exists only in Jude’s imagination. Another symbol that we encounter is that of Samson who is symbolic of man going after women that are forbidden to him. We also encounter a reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, which is used to question God by asking why the righteous suffer. Finally, the job Jude chooses is also symbolic of the anti-religious attitude that is shown.

The negativity towards religion is first revealed in the name Jude. Jude is an allusion to Judas Iscariot. Judas betrayed Jesus to his enemy for thirty pieces of silver. He identified Jesus to the soldiers by kissing him, and this is what led to Jesus’s death. He later returned the money he received to kill Jesus and then went off and killed himself. Jude’s life seems to contain many similarities to Judas’s life. When Jude was in his younger years he had strong feelings towards religion. Jude began to move away from God as his life progressed. This occurred when he started to feel the guilt that arose from his feelings for Sue. These feelings of guilt caused Jude to move away from the Church and “betray” God, as he states, “The Church is no more to me.” (Ingham, 221)

By making the comparison to Judas, Hardy is conveying to us the message that religion causes one to feel very unsure of oneself. Judas’s life is filled with uncertainty; at first he is very religious and spends much time with Jesus. He then abruptly betrays Jesus for a mere thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. He is very unsure of himself and it is the hypocrisy that seems to eat away at him until he can longer take it, and as a result he ends up killing himself. Jude is very unsure of himself when it comes to religion, mirroring Judas.

At first, he wants to be ordained, but, only because he wants to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Phillotson. He then is no longer able to keep his religious views because he can not live with the fact that they go against his deepest desires to be with Sue. As with Judas, religion causes Jude to act very hypocritically. Jude wanted to be religious, yet at the same time he wanted to remain together with Sue. Finally, Jude can longer cope with all these feelings of guilt and confusion and he is forced to leave the Church.

Thus we see that religion causes someone to be very confused and act in a very hypocritical manner. Hardy feels that these feelings are not necessary and could be avoided by avoiding religion. Had Jude and Sue not fallen into the “trap” of religion, it is very probable that the whole story would have been different, and would have ended on much brighter note. Had Jude and Sue not had the conflict of religion they would have been able to marry each other without having any guilty feelings. They also would have been able to avert any ill feelings that the towns’ people had felt towards them.

The word Jude can mean the wandering Jew. By calling the main character of the book Jude, Hardy is making a reference to a group of people who believe in God and are classified as wandering. By using this allusion Hardy is trying to convey to us that the path of religion is not one that has a true destination, but rather it is one of fallacy that leaves people wandering. Hardy further illustrates this point by making Jude a “wanderer.” Jude is a wanderer both literally and figuratively. Literally we see him wandering from place to place to find work, and figuratively we see him searching for his own identity.

We encounter a negativity towards religion by the town called Christminster. Christminster can be broken down into Christ and minister. At first, Christminster is symbolic of a place that is supposed to be wonderful like the world of the Church. It is likened to the Church by the phrases in which Hardy uses to describe it. He writes that Jude sees Christminster as “the city of the light,” in fact it is seen as “a place he had likened to the new Jerusalem,” the city of redemption. (Ingham, 85) These biblical references lead us to make a religious connection between the Church and Christminster.

Christminster is also seen as a place where he hopes to fulfill all his hopes and dreams. “From the beginning, Jude sees in Christminster and its university the image of an attainable ideal world. His desire for this ideal vision involves a rejection of reality. For his own sporadically controlled, partially understood world, he substitutes the image of an ideal unified, stable, and understandable one.” (Bloom, 193) However, this wonderful world exists only in Jude’s imagination. He does this in order to escape his complicated reality.

Hardy is trying to tell us that we should not fall into the same predicament as Jude; we should not allow ourselves to run after religion as an escape to our problems because it will only lead to hardships. We see Hardy’s message as Jude encounters many major rejections in Christminster; included in these are his not getting into any of the colleges he desired to attend and his love Sue leaving him for Phillotson. Here we see that the two major goals that Jude had hoped to achieve in Christminster both remained unfulfilled. What Hardy is trying to tell us is that at in many instances religion may seem to be the path to take.

However, after one delves deep into the meaning of religion he finds, as Jude does in Christminster, that while it may seem great from a distance, it is actually just filled with many letdowns. Thus, the view on religion is: it seems to be the “light” we should follow, but, it is actually only an illusion.

Hardy shows that Jude’s desire to go to Christminster and dedicate himself to the church stemmed from his admiration of Phillotson. By saying this, Hardy is telling us that it was not Jude’s own true wish be a part of the Church, but rather he was just following someone there. He then realizes that with his true feelings he can not continue to follow the Church because it would be hypocritical. What Jude is realizing is that one must choose his own path and should not feel compelled to follow God, if he does not come to the conclusion himself.

When Jude an Arabella go walking together, they stop at an inn to drink tea. At this time Hardy makes mention of the picture on the wall. The hanging picture is of Samson and Delilah. Samson, although a fighter for his nation, was not someone who strictly adhered to the laws of religion. Samson showed his lack of adhesion to the laws of the bible by sleeping with three forbidden women. This is very similar to Jude who is going after the “forbidden woman” (forbidden because she is his cousin). Samson is thus a symbol of one going against the proper views of the bible, as Jude.

By bringing up Samson at such a time Hardy is trying to tell us something. He is trying to tell us that even though one of the great heroes of the bible has gone and committed sin with forbidden women, he was still able to become a hero. Hardy therefore brings this to our attention to show us that religion is not necessary in order for one to lead a successful life.

By making this reference Hardy is trying to make Jude into a tragic hero. This is done through the mention of Samson. Hardy is saying that as Samson Jude is also a hero. While Samson was a hero because of his strength and ability to triumph in battle, Jude is a hero because he has the strength to fight against what society deems to be acceptable (the ways of the Church). Jude is not swayed like most by what others feel he should do, but rather he is a fighter.

Hardy compares Jude to Jesus in many instances, one of which is when Jude is angry at Sue for marrying Phillotson. This comparison is brought up when Jude and Sue are talking about which inn to go to, in order to avoid being seen by others. Here we have Jude intending to commit adultery with Sue and we have Hardy comparing him to Jesus. Although in the end of the seen Jude and Sue do not end up sleeping with each other, at the time the comparison to Jesus is made, it is Jude’s intention to sleep with Sue.

“You simply mean that you flirted outrageously with him, poor old chap, and then to make reparation, married him, though you tortured yourself to death by doing it.”
“Well-if you will put it brutally!–it was like that-that and the scandal together-and you concealing from me what you have told me before!”
He could see that she was distressed and tearful at his criticisms, and soothed her saying, “There, dear; don’t mind! Crucify me if you will! You know you are the world to me, whatever you do!” (Hardy, 216)

In this instance Hardy’s negative views towards religion are seen. We encounter Jude and Sue arguing about her feelings for Phillotson. Once Jude realizes that he has caused Sue to feel bad he immediately tries to comfort her. Here Hardy compares Jude to Jesus by having him say “crucify me if you will.”