“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…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.”
At the end of Chapter 1, Ishmael reflects on the beginnings of his voyage and suggests that, despite his initial sense of choice, fate determined his path all along. He admits that, retrospectively, he understands that he never truly had the freedom to decide to head out to sea. The disparity between his initial assumptions and his later reflections highlights the deceiving nature of fate. Disguised as free will, fate ultimately led Ishmael to the Pequod and Captain Ahab’s doomed quest.
"The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and - Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That's more than ye, ye great gods, ever were."
Captain Ahab delivers a soliloquy in Chapter 37 after rallying the crew around his cause, and he reflects on his determination to kill Moby Dick once and for all. The prophecy he references in this line relates to his first encounter with the White Whale in which he lost his leg, an outcome which he views as a predetermined act of fate. Given the apparent truth of this prophecy, Ahab offers a new prophecy for himself that predicts he will defeat the White Whale. This approach reflects his false belief that he has the power to manipulate fate, a power which he declares not even the gods themselves possess.
"All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life."
At the end of Chapter 60, Ishmael offers a rather philosophical interpretation of the symbolism of whale lines. He uses this metaphor to reflect on the role of fate, suggesting that humans are not privy to its influence until their final moments. Describing the whale line, and therefore fate, as something “silent, subtle, [and] ever-present” emphasizes its deceptive nature, especially given the characters’ tendencies to misinterpret their destiny. Ishmael argues that it is impossible to see fate clearly until it is too late.
"In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph, you then saw Ahab in all his fatal pride."
Ishmael offers this description of Captain Ahab at the very end of Chapter 124 after witnessing him make his own compass needle to repair those damaged in the storm. This act reflects Ahab’s belief in his power to carry out what he sees as fate’s decree that he kill Moby Dick. The use of “fatal” in this moment, however, has a double meaning and foreshadows his death in addition to the pride he feels in fulfilling what he interprets as his fate. Appealing to both meanings here allows Melville to highlight just how misguided Ahab is in his pursuits.
"Ahab is forever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am Fate's lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! That thou obeyest mine."
After losing his ivory leg for the second time in Chapter 134, Captain Ahab reasserts his belief that he is fated to kill Moby Dick, challenging Starbuck’s pleas for him to back down. The absolute certainty with which Ahab expresses his conviction reflects his misunderstanding of the destiny that awaits him. He interprets his path through a positive lens, thus distorting the reality of his situation. The fate that Ahab believes in is ultimately one of his own imagination, and his bold claims foreshadow the consequences of such a perspective.