This chapter’s title — “The Hyena” — evokes the terrifying laughter of that carnivorous animal, which attacks from behind and often begins to eat its prey while the prey is down but still alive. Ishmael is once again musing about Fate and the limitations that are placed on human agency and free will. In the first chapter, “Loomings,” he’d made a joke about predestination:

And, doubtless, 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:

“Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States”

“‘Whaling Voyage by one Ishmael”


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.

He continues that train of thought here, though one gets this sense that, in remembering his falling into the drink, he finds it all