Moby Dick

Imagery in Moby Dick

I am searching for Imagery in Moby Dick, rather than symbolism

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"Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!"

Ahab speaks these words in his soliloquy in Chapter 37, daring anyone to try to divert him from his purpose. Though he is defiant, he is also accepting of his fate, asserting that he has no control over his own behavior—he must run along the “iron rails” that have been laid for him. The powerful rhetoric and strong imagery of this passage are characteristic of Ahab’s speech. He uses his skill with language to persuade his crew to take part in his quest for vengeance, stirring them with suggestions of adventure (“unsounded gorges,” “rifled hearts of mountains”) and inspiring confidence through his apparent faith in himself as “unerring.” Just as Ishmael occasionally gets lost in digressions, Ahab occasionally gets lost in language, repeating the phrase “swerve me” until it becomes almost meaningless, merely a sound. His speeches thus become a kind of poetry or music, stirring the listener with their form as much as their content.


Allusion-Laden Imagery

.......Throughout Moby Dick, Melville uses vivid imagery laden with allusions—some of them obscure and easily missed by the reader. Following is a passage containing such an allusion, which helps to reveal Ahab's thoughts. It also contains several striking figures of speech.

Yonder, by ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun—slow dived from noon—goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see not its far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. 'Tis iron—that I know—not gold. 'Tis split, too—that I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight! (Chapter 37)

Here, the world becomes a goblet (metaphor). The setting sun makes the goblet's contents, the waves, “blush like wine” (simile). As the sun goes down, Ahab's soul rises on a journey up an endless hill (metaphor and personification comparing the soul to a person climbing a hill). Then comes the obscure allusion, centering on Ahab's comparison of himself and his suffering to Christ and His crucifixion. Ahab makes these comparisons through his reference to the Iron Crown of Lombardy. This crown, preserved in a cathedral in the city of Monza in northern Italy, is a jewel-studded wonder. Running around it, inside, is a thin iron band said to have been hammered into its shape from a nail from the cross on which Christ was crucified. St. Helena (AD 248?-328?), the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I, was said to have found the cross on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When Ahab notes that he figuratively wears this crown, he is not declaring that he is a holy man. Rather, he is placing himself on the same level as Christ and, at the same time, proclaiming that he carries a Christ-like burden. The passage helps to illuminate his fatal hubris.

.......Other allusions are not so obscure. For example, the one in the following passage refers to a Bible story with which most Christians are familiar:

It may seem strange that of all men sailors should be tinkering at their last wills and testaments, but there are no people in the world more fond of that diversion. This was the fourth time in my nautical life that I had done the same thing. After the ceremony was concluded upon the present occasion, I felt all the easier; a stone was rolled away from my heart. Besides, all the days I should now live would be as good as the days that Lazarus lived after his resurrection; a supplementary clean gain of so many months or weeks as the case might be. I survived myself; my death and burial were locked up in my chest. I looked round me tranquilly and contentedly, like a quiet ghost with a clean conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.

The allusion here begins with "a stone was rolled away from my heart," then continues in the next sentence. In the Gospel of St. John (Chapter 11, Verses 1-44), the sisters of a man named Lazarus asked Jesus to to visit Lazarus, who was ill. But by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had died and had lain in a tomb for four days. Jesus then ordered the stone rolled back from the tomb, a cave, and called to Lazarus to come forth. Lazarus then emerged from the tomb.