Theme of Person's Choices in a Novel Moby Dick

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For centuries, philosophers and religious figures have debated whether one’s life is predetermined or if people have the ability to choose their own destiny. Various authors have explored the concept of fate versus free will in their novels, such as in Moby Dick by Herman Melville. One of the central questions in the novel Moby Dick is whether the sailors on the Pequod were fated to die, or if Ahab’s vicious quest for revenge was the reason for the ship’s demise. Melville perfectly encapsulates the relationship between determinism and free will on page 255, expressing that one’s fate is dependent on and interconnected to other people’s free will. Throughout the story, readers see Ahab acting out of pure selfishness in order to obtain revenge against Moby Dick for his lost leg. Ahab claims he would “chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before [he gave] him up” (Melville 139). Early in the story, readers see how Ahab’s mind is extremely fixed on the revenge and capture of Moby Dick, making his quest seem virtually unalterable. Although Ahab claims “[he is] the Fates’ lieutenant” and “[he] act[s] under orders”, ultimately he is the only person obsessed with capturing Moby Dick.

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And in time, this hunt led to almost the whole crew’s death. It is inferable that through Ahab’s decision to pursue the quest, he altered the fate of the crew so that eventually “concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all-round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight” (Melville 426). Because of Ahab’s fixated mind on one sole action, the Pequod was destroyed and the whole entire crew perished. This ultimate death was foreshadowed on page 255 saying, “that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death” (Melville 255). Ishmael correctly identifies the interconnection between one’s free will and another's fate, as Ishmael, a simple man in search of adventure, witnesses a tragedy due to Ahab’s “mistake” or, quest for revenge.

The quote on page 255, exemplifies the overarching meaning in the book, Ishmael stating that his “own individuality was now merged in a joint-stock company of two” (Melville 255). Ishmael had no chance to pursue his own free will because he had to compensate for the fate that Ahab was already handed to him, thus having his free will be completely overridden. Similarly, the complex connection between one’s free will and another’s fate is discoverable through Starbuck and his confrontation with Ahab. Starbuck is a character who recognizes the moral injustice in Ahab’s relentless quest of Moby Dick and says “of all this fiery life” of Ahab, “what will at length remain but one little heap of ashes,” claiming Ahab’s own attitude will lead him to his ultimate demise (Melville 379). At one point Starbuck saw a line of muskets and although “Starbuck was an honest, upright man” upon seeing the muskets he “evolved an evil thought” (Melville 386).

Starbuck considered killing Ahab as his hunt for Moby Dick “would fain kill all his crew” and thus, Starbuck would bring the entire crew to a more prosperous fate (Melville 387). Starbuck seemed to be “wrestling with an angel, but turning from the door, he placed the death-tube in its rack, and left the place,” leaving the lives of the sailors still in Ahab’s hands. Ultimately, Starbuck could not bring himself to kill Ahab, displaying his fatal flaw, weakness, and a lack of courage. Throughout the story, Starbuck was seen as having a differing view on the world than Ahab, as he was generally very cautious and moral. Starbuck was challenged with a very justified murder in order to avoid future bloodshed, however; he could not follow through with it. Nevertheless, Starbuck's freewill gave him the choice and ability to alter the entire crew’s fate, if he had the courage to do so. As seen in Ahab’s relentless pursuit and Starbuck’s morally weighed choices, someone’s free will is far from independent.

Every person's choices closely affect themselves, as well as others, making the repercussions from those choices predestination. And thus making the webs of fate interdependent on different people, the crews fate mostly relying on Ahab’s free will. A person may only control their fate so much as to move their end of the line however their fate will always, in the end, depend on the decisions of others.

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