Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


In my study of the various interpretations attributed to Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, I have become aware of the great confusion among critics of literary symbolism and the problems involved. The facts that so much has been written on Moby Dick and that so many varied interpretations have resulted seem to indicate that Moby Dick offers a challenge to the reader and that there is a deeper and more profound meaning behind this adventure story than meets the eye. It is safe to say that no American novel has stimulated so much thinking in the realm of literary criticism as Moby Dick. My intention in this thesis is certainly not to solve the unsolvable, but to cast light upon the problems as they have been discussed by literary critics. I intend to present the problems of interpretation and the various interpretations proposed and to offer an evaluation in the light of modern-day criticism. In the first chapter, I attempt to point out concisely why there is a problem of interpretation of Moby Dick. Herman Melville does not throw light upon the correct interpretation either in the text itself or in outside sources. It seems that Melville himself did not have a clear set pattern of symbols while writing the book, but he seemed to have developed various symbols as he was in the process of writing his novel. In the second chapter, I have outlined the most important interpretations proposed by Melvillean scholars, arranging them in three main categories; namely, allegorical, non-allegorical symbolical, and non-allegorical non-symbolical. After each interpretation I have given an evaluation in view of my own personal interpretation, the basis of which is directed by a closer study of the text of Moby Dick itself. In the third chapter, I have considered outside sources which possibly might have influenced Melville in his writing of the book. These evidences consist mostly of conclusions arrived at by scholars who delved into the sources of Moby Dick which are basically autobiographical and literary. I have used those items which would support the interpretation given in the final chapter. In the fourth chapter, I have presented a reading of Moby Dick, based on my personal reading of the book and the study done by the most important Melvillean scholars. The conclusion arrived in this thesis is that Moby Dick is a tragedy woven into an exciting sea adventure. The hero is Captain Ahab, whose downfall is his excessive pride which produces a senseless monomania about a "dumb brute." As for the symbolism in the book, the reader is free to interpret the various symbols as he is inspired by the actual reading of the story, except where Melville is explicit in the presentation of certain symbols in the actual text itself.


Dr. Samuel J. Sackett

Date of Award

Summer 1963

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1963 John B. Terbovich


For questions contact

Off Campus FHSU Users Click Here