The great white whale metaphor: Moby Dick
Sigmund, Carl, & Alfred recently put Gerard Van der Leun on the couch. As could have been predicted, the results are well worth reading.
Following the rule of threes, the three analysts (SC&A, speaking with one voice, as "they" always do) asked Van der Leun which three books are a must-read for Americans. His answer:
Well, that would be tough, but just off the top of my head I'd say: The King James Bible (Whether or not you believe.) The Works of William Shakespeare (Otherwise you know nothing of reading and writing.) Moby Dick (The great American novel has been written and this is it. Prophetic vision of America that proves more true with every passing year.)
Can't argue with those choices; not at all.
Ah, Moby Dick (hyphenated or un)! I first encountered him in an abridged version in junior high, followed by the real (looooong) thing in high school, where I clearly remember struggling rather unsuccessfully with the obligatory essay question, "Discuss the symbolism of the white whale." That protean metaphor for just about everything stumped me then, and I only started thinking hard about it many years later when I re-read old Moby as an adult.
I'm sure Gerard Van der Leun would have no trouble whatsoever tossing off a few thousand or so fascinating words on the subject of that "prophetic vision of America that proves more true with every passing year." I, for one, would love to read such an essay, if he ever cares to write it.
But till then, I've got a few things to say about Moby Dick myself.
I've thought about it quite a bit over time, since it's one of my favorite books (hated that 50s movie, though--what a lot of bloody water, and Gregory Peck was just way too Mr. Nice Guy to ever be Ahab).
So, what does the whale symbolize, anyway? I've called it a "protean" symbol, meaning "readily taking on various shapes, forms, or meanings." So one thing we can agree on is that the text offers a lot of room for us to see any number of things in it. Evil, for starters. Or unbridled nature, with Ahab representing the hubris of fighting the way the world is set up, thinking he can subdue the chaos.
Or, well--I'm planning to discuss my own take in another essay, some time soon.
But right now my point will be brief (hey, it's already not been brief, you say? Ah, well).
Whatever your preferred Moby Dick metaphor, it can be extended to some present day situations. Here are my current offerings:
(1) To Hitler, the Jews were Moby Dick.
(2) To the Arab world, the Israelis are Moby Dick.
(3) To quite a few Europe on the left, "Zionists" (read: "Jews") are still Moby Dick.
(4) To those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, Bush is Moby Dick.
(5) To many who detest Bush, Iraq is Bush's Moby Dick.