Some novels might be subtle about issues of fate vs. chance, but Moby-Dick thrusts questions of free will vs. determinism right into the reader’s face, starting in the very first chapter. At one point (Chapter 47, to be precise), the novel even develops a complicated metaphor that brings together fate, chance, and free will in one elaborate system. The question for the reader is whether this metaphor can take all the strain of an insane quest, a revenge tragedy, a series of strange coincidences, and heavily allegorical symbolism. When we can no longer bear the power and strangeness of fate, the novel explicitly encourages us to consider laughter our only recourse.
The only choice Ishmael makes in Moby-Dick is to sign the ship’s articles of the Pequod; from that point forward, his entire adventure is the result of Ahab’s tragic destiny, and there’s nothing he can do to alter it.
Even though the narrator continually describes the voyage of the Pequod as a journey cursed by fate, the novel also goes to great lengths to emphasize many different points at which small decisions, if made differently, could have saved the ship.