3. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

This quote, from Chapter 41, is the existential heart of the book; appropriately, the chapter from which it comes shares its title with the White Whale and the novel itself. While many sailors aboard the Pequod use legends about particularly large and malevolent whales as a way to manage the fear and danger inherent in whaling, they do not take these legends literally. Ahab, on the other hand, believes that Moby Dick is evil incarnate, and pits himself and humanity in an epic, timeless struggle against the White Whale. His belief that killing Moby Dick will eradicate evil evidences his inability to understand things symbolically: he is too literal a reader of the world around him. Instead of interpreting the loss of his leg as a common consequence of his occupation and perhaps as a punishment for taking excessive risks, he sees it as evidence of evil cosmic forces persecuting him.