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Ishmael is the narrator or the protagonist in the novel. Unlike all the other characters in the book, the author does not give a physical description of Ishmael. But through his activities and thought processes, one can deduce that he is a young man who goes to sea in search of adventure. Just as young Ishmael joins the whaling ship in the novel, the author, Herman Melville had also sailed on several merchant ships from a very young age. Young Ishmael represents the spirit of the times he lives in. The period in the 1800s witnessed many Americans migrating to the west, seeking land and adventure. Ishmael is not just a detached observer in the story but he also participates in the action and events that shape the story of the hero of the novel. He is a sensitive person who not only has a keen eye for details, as he makes each character come alive to the reader, but also as he tries to understand each individual and event with a great deal of sympathy.
Ishmael is not a rash young sailor who joins the whaling ship but is a philosopher and thinker who treats all the crew members as well as the captain with sympathy and understanding - in spite of their shortcomings. In a way, Ishmael also represents the voice of conscience in the Pequod, which is heading towards disaster. For it is he who in several places, before and during the journey gets the strange feeling of some impending doom in the near future.
Besides, through the narrator, Melville, the author, expresses his views on subjects ranging from philosophy to the problems and perils of the whaling industry as it used to be in the 1800s. In other words, through Ishmael, the writer reveals his own knowledge of human nature, his association with people from various parts of the world, and his deep study of whales and the whaling industry.
Moby Dick is a giant white ferocious whale. Around this legendary sperm whale, the journey on Pequod and the drama in the novel is spun. Like all the characters (with the exception of Ahab), the reader also feels that the giant white whale is unconquerable. The writer with his skillful use of words gives this beast a quality of invincibility - some thing that any humans can only look up in awe, but cannot control or destroy. This is clearly evident from the chapter, where the author, while describing the various types of whales tells the reader that manís eyes are placed in such a way that it can focus upon only one object. On the other hand, the whaleís eyes are on opposite sides of his head. In other words, the whale at any given time can see two objects simultaneously. By stating this, the author suggests that the giant whale represents the dual quality of the Universe, whereas man is a monistic creature. Therefore, while God created the Universe with infinite meaning and purpose, man can only see or read one specific meaning.
Besides, Moby Dick also represents that part of nature, which cannot be controlled or destroyed by man. And if man does try to control it, as Ahab does in the novel, he will only meet his death. In other words the writer says that our nature is something that cannot and should not be controlled by man. Man might have progressed by controlling a tiny part of the environment. But nature, the vast Universe, is still supreme and man is only a very small part of this.
So complex and fascinating is the character of Moby Dick that it can represent various things in different situations. For instance, at the end of the story, when Moby Dick drives his giant head into the Pequodís side and drowns it, the reader is reminded of the biblical story where a fish (a whale) swallows Jonah.