Fate vs. Free Will-Round One
Fatevs. Free Will-Round One
Fate is something that is questionable in its existence. Some people choose to believe in it, while others ignore the possibility that it rules their lives. Fate is often thought of as that which is predetermined. In “Moby Dick” fate is a common theme that threads throughout the novel. When considering what type of novel this is, fate plays a part as well. Melville can be thought of as an emergence writer because he tries out new things without a purpose. Adversely he makes his two main characters unlike himself. Ahab seems to be a non-narrative foundationalist wanting only to arrive at an end. Ishmael could be either a non-narrative foundationalist or an emergence storyteller. Though Melville is writing using the emergence method, he includes the idea of fate in his story, which shows that it still plays a large part in his thinking and the development of the story.
Melville is a confusing writer. His topics often jump around and one is never quite sure what he is trying to convey to the reader. Despite the fact that Melville’s novel is bewildering at times, fate is an idea and theme that Melville does not use to confuse the reader. This is interesting because he is using emergence as his way of writing. Fate suggests there is some overall purpose or destiny, while emergence suggests there is no purpose.
The reader first sees the idea of fate appears in the form of Ishmael’s ideas about what brought him to sea to go whaling. He believes the free will of man exists, but is influenced by unseen forces. At first Ishmael believes that he only wished to see the magnificence of whales and the world, but after everything that has happened to him, he now believes the decision was already made for him by a greater force. This was somewhat of a last choice for Ishmael. He appeared ready to commit suicide, but by choosing whaling or having whaling chosen for him, Ishmael is bringing himself to death in another manner. Either way death is upon him, showing the reading that fate has taken control of Ishmael’s life. Even before Ishmael gets to the ship he sees Bulkington in the Spouter-Inn. Although he doesn't realize it, Bulkington will end up on the Peqoud with him; already he is being ensnared in the fate of the ship he hasn't even seen yet. This suggests that not only is Ishmael being led by destiny, but so are the lives of the men who will board the the Pequod. This display of lack of knowledge about the fate leading everyone along in life reminds the reader of Melville because he is also being led along by fate, yet he tries to write using an emergence method. By writing with an emergence style, yet including so much about destiny, Melville is displaying his true belief that fate exists. Even he cannot escape it in his writing.
Religion is a large part of the novel and along with the many allusions to Christianity come suggestions about fate. Father Mapple’s sermon is one enormous allusion to the fate in everyone’s life. Father Mapple discusses man's inability to escape Fate or defy God's will. In his example Father Mapple shows how Jonah tries to escape his fate, but is captured by a whale. His sermon is related to whaling and the idea of a whale as the punishing force of God. Because Christianity is used many times throughout the novel, the theme of destiny is brought again and again to the reader’s attention.
What fate the men on the ship are being led to becomes clear early in the novel. Before he even leaves town, Ishmael is imparted with symbols of death and disaster wherever he goes. Between the gallows painted on the sign of the inn in Nantucket, and the name Peter Coffin, to Ishmael it already looks as if bad signs are everywhere. Either the fate of the Peqoud has already been decided, or Ishmael is just seeing things because he is anxious to embark on his journey. Maybe Ishmael even wants to see death, because he is dealing with a depressing part of his life and even though he sees these signals of death, nothing stops Ishmael from continuing on his whaling journey.
Fate is often intertwined with the idea of one’s own free will. Melville frequently depicts a duel theme of free will and fate interacting through Ishmael and Queequeg. Queequeg is shown as passive, allowing Ishmael to make decisions for both men. This makes Ishmael seem as if he is controlling Queequeg’s destiny, where in reality neither men are controlling their destinies. An example of Ishmael acting as Queequeg’s controller of destiny is when Queequeg forces Ishmael to choose the ship on which they will sail. When Ishmael goes to the docks, he picks the Peqoud haphazardly, having rejected two other ships for no other reason than their names. He somehow feels the Peqoud is the right ship. This feeling of fate is showing its face in the lives of both men.
In addition to Ishmael, Captain Ahab is also driven by a feeling of ultimate destiny. Ahab is driven by something he cannot understand or define and he decides to call it his fate. Ahab is on a quest to avenge Moby Dick because the whale took his leg. It often seems as if Ahab is driven to stand up to the gods and his perceived injustice, and by doing so, he is creating his fate. Yet, one of the largest questions presented by the Melville in 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 for Ahab to turn back, from the pleas of the Rachel, to Starbuck's desperate reasoning. Along with these chances, there is a hint of doom in the air from the very start. The prophecies of Elijah and the many sinister omens that go unheeded, makes Ahab's journey seem inevitable. He clearly believes in fate because his journey is about him being pulled by a force beyond his control.
The way fate and free will are intertwined is again represented in the chapter where Queequeg weaves a mat, which starts Ishmael thinking. He considers how free will determines the fate to which we are destined, just like each weave of the mat 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 mind, driven by a force that is evidently out of his control. This also applies to Ishmael because he is also faced with many bad omens, yet chooses to ignore them. This shows that both men realize that though they have a free will that allows them to make decisions in life, both men are led by a greater force.
Melville is a creative writer in the sense that he adds humor and deep ideas to his writings. It is valid to say that his points are hard to understand or even recognize at times, but the idea of fate is very clear. He believes that fate and free will interact, but fate takes the upper hand in life. Most people have multiple ideas about life and death and this novel shows the reader that Melville is only human. His ideas are just as mixed up as the rest of the population. He is fighting to find an answer about how fate and free will interact. He seems to have done that well and has shown the reader that there is in fact an interaction between the two things. This gives the reader insight into what kind of writer Melville is. Melville uses the emergence style of writing to prove his theories and bring the world new ideas, even though he uses an unusual and little seen style of writing. Though he jumps around in the novel, Melville makes quite a statement about life and death.