Throughout our time of existence, mankind has had conflicted views on many things in life, but one of the greatest mysteries is the idea of fate and freewill. Fate is defined as the inevitable, the universal principle by which the order of things is presumably prescribed. Believing in fate means believing that there is a higher power that knows all and has cut a path for everyone that they will follow no matter what. Free will is defined as the power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances; it is solely the choice of the individual and the complete opposite of everything fatalistic.
While no one has or ever will be able to prove the true existence of fate or free will, the ideas of have been so ingrained into our culture that there have been books and movies spun around the foundation of fate and free will. From Shakespeare’s Macbeth written in 1606, to the 2000 American horror film series, Final Destination, over long period of times the ideas of fate and free will have a constant. The ideas of fate and free will can be seen greatly in classical literature such as Macbeth and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Fate plays a huge role in the main characters of the stories as they both struggle with the idea of fate and how it controls their lives. Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Melville’s character Ahab are both tragic figures who receive prophecies, but they have different outlooks on fate and how they will let it affect their lives. The aspect that brings these two characters together is the prophecies they both receive. These prophecies are given at the beginning of the stories and are what drive both stories.
In the play Macbeth, he comes upon three witches after battle that give him a prophecy and Macbeth, thinking that they’re crazy, brushes them aside, only to be bewildered when the aspects of the prophecy start coming true. Only then does Macbeth start giving into the notion of fate and prophecy. Many people argue that Macbeth was a victim of fate, that his downward spiral was predestined, that Macbeth couldn’t win. In Act 5 Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s tragic play, Macbeth alludes to believing that fate is the deciding factor in his life.
When he takes the news of his wife’s death will very little emotion, his excuse being she would have died tomorrow, or the day after if she didn’t die today, that it is in fate’s design that she dies. He says the famous line, “Life’s but a walking shadow,” realizing that life is an illusion that is being controlled by some other power that is not his own doing. Macbeth’s view of fate is that it is an absolutely inevitable and even if he tries to alter the course of his life, he will still have the same outcome.
In Melville’s novel Moby Dick, Ahab receives a prophecy that outlines his death and through misinterpretation he seemingly brushes the prophecy off, much like Macbeth. Ahab believes that it is his fate to destroy the monstrous whale that took his leg, and no matter the cost or obstacle, he is so driven to capture Moby Dick that it ultimately leads to his demise. In a passage in Moby Dick Ahab struggles with the idea that he is not choosing the life he is living, that he is like a puppet in the game of life with someone else pulling the strings.
He questions” Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? ” At this point in the novel Ahab doesn’t understand why he is so driven to capture this beast, is it because of his desire to get revenge, or is it because God has made him this way and is pulling all the strings, making it necessary to chase the whale day in and day out. Ahab finds himself struggling to grasp the concept of his fate and kept fighting it off until his death, not being able to let the idea of capturing Moby Dick go even though he knew what the outcome would be.
Whether Macbeth and Ahab had fates that set them up for their demise is unknown to us, but the idea that they knew what fate had in store for them is what consumed their lives, driving them both mad. While Macbeth accepted the reality of the situation he was in and the fate that he was presented with, he still died fighting fate fully knowing he could never win, claiming, “ I cannot fly, but I must fight the course. ” Ahab on the other hand questions his fate but refuses to give in. We may never know how fate and free will play a role in our lives but for Macbeth and Ahab it ultimately leads to their tragic deaths.