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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Fate and Free Will Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

[D]oubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:


Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces – though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.

Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. (1.11-12)

So here’s what Ishmael claims: I went on my voyage on the Pequod because it was fate. And because I was interested in whales. But mostly because it was fate. And because I chose to find out more about whaling. Hmm, contradict yourself much there, Ish?

Quote #2

My soul is more than matched; she’s overmanned; and by a madman! Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field! But he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who’s over him, he cries; – aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look, how he lords it over all below! Oh! I plainly see my miserable office, – to obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with touch of pity! For in his eyes I read some lurid woe would shrivel me up, had I it. Yet is there hope. Time and tide flow wide. The hated whale has the round watery world to swim in, as the small gold-fish has its glassy globe. His heaven-insulting purpose, God may wedge aside. (38.1)

Very early in the novel, Starbuck realizes—or decides—that it will be his fate to help Ahab with his sacrilegious revenge quest, even though he knows it’s wrong. It’s possible that he has a flash vision of his future, in which he discovers what his role in this story is going to be. But it’s also possible that, at this moment, he abdicates all responsibility for his actions and hides behind "Destiny."

Quote #3

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Hem! clear my throat! – I’ve been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha’s the final consequence. Why so? Because a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer; and come what will, one comfort’s always left – that unfailing comfort is, it’s all predestinated. [. . .] Well, Stubb, wise Stubb – that’s my title – well, Stubb, what of it, Stubb? Here’s a carcase. I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing. (39.1)

Stubb abdicates responsibility for the fate of the Pequod even more obviously than Starbuck does. What will be will be, thinks Stubb... so I might as well enjoy myself. What a cop-out!

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