Notes on Moby Dick Themes

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Moby Dick Topic Tracking: Fate

Chapters 1 - 15

Fate 1: Ishmael believes he is called to whaling by the hand of Fate. At the time, he only wished to see the majesty of whales and the world, but after everything that has happened, he now believes the decision was already made for him. The free will of man exists, but it is influenced by unseen forces, and leads to outcomes one cannot possibly predict.

Fate 2: Ishmael sees Bulkington in the Spouter-Inn. Although he doesn't know it yet, Bulkington will end up on the Pequod with him; already he is being enmeshed in the fate of the ship he hasn't even seen yet.

Fate 3: The sermon Father Mapple delivers is about man's inability to escape Fate, or defy God's will. Jonah tries to escape his fate, but is captured by a whale. His sermon is connected to whaling, as it is a whaleman's chapel, and the idea of a whale as the avenging force of God is planted in the mind of the reader.

Fate 4: Between the gallows painted on the sign of the inn in Nantucket, and the name Peter Coffin, it already seems to Ishmael that ill omens are everywhere. Either the fate of the Pequod has already been decided, or Ishmael is just seeing things because he is nervous to embark on his journey. No matter how it is interpreted, Ismael is presented with symbols of death and doom wherever he goes in town.

Chapters 16 - 30

Fate 5: Queequeg allows his fate to be controlled by Ishmael, by forcing him to choose the ship on which they will sail. When Ishmael goes to the docks, he picks the Pequod almost at random, having rejected two other ships for no other reason than their names. He somehow feels the Pequod is the right ship. Once again, Fate is intertwined in a decision that is of Ishmael's own free will.

Fate 6: The bum Elijah, who acts as sort of a prophet, predicts the fate of the ship to be doomed. Even though he is just a man saying this, Ishmael still finds it difficult to discount what he says. There is a feeling of men playing a part in a larger story that they don't quite understand. As a prophet, Elijah warns of the future, but is unable to change it, or really help those embroiled in it.

Chapters 31 - 45

Fate 7: Ishmael sees Bulkington on the ship, and wonders how a man could rush from one voyage to another. In his wondering, he concludes that rational thought and decision making are essentially helpless in the face of those things that drive us onward: our inner needs, private demons, and of course, Fate.

Fate 8: Stubb is able to laugh at the future because he believes that everything is preordained; this trust in fate eliminates any worry. For him, fate is a comforting blanket, an absolution from any sort of individual responsibility over any possible outcome. Since his life is already pre-determined, he doesn't worry about what's going to happen, and he doesn't regret what he does in the meantime.

Chapters 46 - 60

Fate 9: Ishmael sees how free will and fate can be intertwined as he watches Queequeg weave the mat. Free will determines the fate to which we are destined, just like each weave of the map fits with those around it. Ahab dooms himself by his choice to hunt Moby Dick; he is faced with ill omens throughout the novel, but pays them no heed, driven by a force that is perhaps out of his control. Is Man free to choose, or are all his choices chosen for him in advance?

Fate 10: Ishmael comes around to Stubb's way of thinking, refusing to worry about anything and leaving himself open to his fate. There is an almost suicidal aspect to this; Ishmael frees himself from worrying about death after being washed out of the whaling boat and nearly killed. He laughs, casting aside his cares and worries.

Fate 11: In the encounter with the Goney, there are two ill omens: the captain drops his horn when he tries to speak of Moby Dick, and fish swim from the Pequod to the Goney. While these are both easily explained as coincidences, they leave a sense of foreboding with the crew, so heavy is the sense of possible doom. Later, there is another ill omen: the sight of a giant squid when a whale is expected. It remains a question whether these occurrences are omens of the future, or if the feeling of doom is so prevalent that any coincidence is taken as foreshadowing of a dangerous future.

Fate 12: Daggoo spots something in the water that he thinks is Moby Dick. Upon further inspection, they discover it is just a giant squid. They take this as a bad omen.

Chapters 76 - 90

Fate 13: Ishmael describes the meeting of the Pequod with the Jungfrau as being "predestined." Every event in life is already scheduled out, so the meeting of ships is no coincidence; there is, in fact, no such thing as coincidence. Things operate almost as if in a play, or a novel; nothing is left to chance, because everything springs from the mind of an all-knowing creator.

Chapters 106 - 120

Fate 14: Perth is a blacksmith who lost his family and went to sea afterwards. Ishmael wonders why death could not have taken him instead of his family, leaving a widow and children left to dream of their father. Instead, fate has left a broken and empty man; fate is not something that can be understood, only endured.

Fate 15: Fedellah can see Ahab's future, and knows how and when the old man will die. The future is a convoluted one, and seems to almost promise that Ahab is immortal; there are strong shades of the witches' prophecy in "Macbeth," in which Macbeth could only be killed by a man "not of woman born." An impossible prophecy is being presented, which is both of interest to the reader (who knows, or at least strongly suspects, that anyone who gets word of their own death will most certainly die by the end of the book), and a challenge to Fate (or the author's pen.).

Chapters 121 - Epilogue

Fate 16: Ahab is driven by something he cannot understand, and he decides to call it his fate. However, he is driven to stand up to the gods and his perceived injustice, and by doing so, he is creating his fate. Or does he? One of the largest questions presented by the novel is whether or not Ahab is doomed from the start to find Moby Dick and be destroyed by him, or if he could have chosen to go free at any point. Many opportunities are provided to Ahab to turn back, from the pleas of the Rachel, to Starbuck's desperate reasoning. Alongside these opportunities, there is a hint of doom in the air from the very start. The prophecies of Elijah, and the various dark omens that go unheeded, makes Ahab's journey seem inevitable, as if he is being pulled by a force out of his control.

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