"Lost by a whale! Young man, come nearer to me: it was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a boat! - ah, ah,!"
As Ishmael and Queequeg set out to find a ship to sail on in Chapter 16, they learn of Captain Ahab and his missing leg from Captain Peleg. This description of Moby Dick as “the monstrousest parmacetty” offers the first hint as to just how vilified he is among whalers and ultimately Captain Ahab. Emphasizing Moby Dick’s massive size also reiterates the sense that whales are mythical and larger than life, an idea Melville first introduces in the Extracts chapter.
"One of the wild suggestions referred to, as a last coming to be linked with the White Whale in the minds of the superstitiously inclined, was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was ubiquitous; that he had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at one and the same instant of time."
In Chapter 41, Ishmael recounts the history of Moby Dick and the countless fishermen who have unsuccessfully pursued him. This particular detail, which Ishmael suggests is rather “wild,” emphasizes Moby Dick’s symbolism as an unknowable, God-like figure. Melville implies that the true subject of Ahab’s pursuit is impossible to achieve. Despite his unquenchable desire to pin down and gain control over Moby Dick, the expansive reach of the White Whale has far more power than one man ever could.
"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me."
Moby Dick’s whiteness, the sole topic of Chapter 42, is arguably one of the most important elements of his character in terms of its symbolic function. Ishmael reflects on the notion that whiteness is a concept which has infinite interpretations, an observation which supports other depictions of Moby Dick as an unknowable or undefinable figure. Given the racially-charged era of American politics in which the novel was written, however, this detail also challenges the reader to think about how, metaphorically, Ahab is hunting whiteness itself. He wants to reclaim the power that he feels he deserves from the White Whale, and this attitude reflects the hypocrisy of using a singular interpretation or worldview as a justification for controlling others.