fate vs destiny

Nunty

Modified
Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
This is from a short story called "Crocodile Tears" by A.S. Byatt.

A Norwegian widower and an English widow, each of whom has a huge secret in his/her immediate past, are staying at the same hotel in France. After some weeks of seeing one another in the bar and diningroom, they begin to talk. Each of them has undertaken a kind of study project, independently of one another, to pass their time in the hotel.

Their conversation gradually becomes more personal, and at this point in the story has reached the point of exchanging world views but not yet of revealing personal secrets. The widower is speaking:

"You are right, in part, I believe it is a matter of indifference what you learn -- or rather, it is a matter of blind fate, which has a creepy way of looking like destiny. But you must be curious, you must take an interest. This is human."

It looks to me like Byatt is saying that fate and destiny are not the same thing; otherwise, why say that that blind fate "has a creepy way of looking like destiny"?

What is the difference between fate and destiny?

Thanks.
 
  • Meeracat

    Senior Member
    I always thought that destiny was the predetermined end, and fate the power that brought this about. However, I'm not sure that this would make the sentence of Byatt any more understandable.
     

    Grumpy Old Man

    Senior Member
    This is what the Random House Unabridged Webster's Dictionary says about those words:

    " FATE stresses the irrationality and impersonal character of events: It was Napoleon's fate to be exiled. The word is often lightly used, however: It was my fate to meet her that very afternoon. DESTINY emphasizes the idea of an unalterable course of events, and is often used of a propitious fortune: It was his destiny to save his nation. DOOM esp. applies to the final ending, always unhappy or terrible, brought about by destiny or fate: He met his doom bravely."
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I thank you both for the definitions, but I still don't see the point Byatt's character is making here. Is someone able to explain it in terms of the sentence itself?
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    The conversation started with each of them talking about the particular thing he or she is studying. Then it developed into a discussion about the benefits of learning new things, about the benefit of remaining open to the environment, of not remaining stuck in one's own particular situation or problem.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    "You are right, in part, I believe it is a matter of indifference what you learn -- or rather, it is a matter of blind fate, which has a creepy way of looking like destiny. But you must be curious, you must take an interest. This is human."


    Perhaps she* means that what you do or don't learn is out of your hands; that the things that present themselves to be learnt by you do so at random; that that which you set yourself the task of learning might end up not being what you actually learn. And that though this discrepancy is largely down to chance, you might imagine that some unseen 'hand' is causing it.

    Erm ... ?



    *I mean the author by this she.
     

    Broccolicious

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Goodness - what an interesting question. Here's a rather poor attempt:

    My instinct is that destiny involves an element of purpose, choice or action, and isn't always fulfilled. For instance, in order to fulfill my destiny as a prima ballerina, I need to train hard. Or for instance, John was trampled to death by an elephant, and never fulfilled his destiny as a great neurosurgeon.

    On the other hand, if it's my fate to become Prime Minister, I don't need to do anything about it - it will happen anyway. In fact, try as I might, there's nothing I can do to stop it. John's fate was to be killed by an elephant.

    Destiny also feels a bit more benevolent than fate, for some reason. (So it may be as simple as fate = bad; destiny = good)

    Sometimes fate might look like destiny, if in hindsight we conclude that a person made certain decisions that led to their fate. Or a series of coincidences might make it look as if there had been a purpose or path to what was really just a study of a random combination of subjects.

    So in the context of this sentence, perhaps the speaker is saying that it doesn't matter what you study, because fate will decide what you end up knowing. For example, John spent years studying neuroscience, but in the end he also learned that elephants can move pretty fast and are very heavy.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "You are right, in part, I believe it is a matter of indifference what you learn -- or rather, it is a matter of blind fate, which has a creepy way of looking like destiny. But you must be curious, you must take an interest. This is human."

    I'm a little concerned about the opening sentence. Why is there no comma after indifference, if what you learn is a noun clause in apposition?

    I agree with Broccolicious about Fate being less benign than destiny, though I don't accept those suggested equations: for me fate is amoral, it has no moral stance, though when we say your fate or his fate we are suggesting that the outcome will be rather unpleasant than otherwise. Your destiny or his destiny sound much less ominous.

    Unmindful of their fate is quite a common expression meaning not realizing what nasty thing is going to happen to them.

    So I think we need to differentiate between destiny and fate, and a person's destiny and their fate. A.S.Byatt was distinguishing between the first two, while some of us have been addressing the difference between the second two.

    I think what she means is that Fate is blind - things happen without our always being able to tell why - but that after they happen it can seem as though Destiny has been at work, as though some purposeful entity has caused events to turn out that way.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Thank you, everyone, for the interesting discussion.

    TT, the "missing" comma perplexes me, too. I double checked it, and I did copy it correctly here.

    I still don't understand the sentence, but you have all given me points to consider as I try to work it out. Thanks again.
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    It seems that the *blind* ( = random) aspect is important. That appears to indicate that there is another kind of fate which is not random. So I wonder if the randomness of your fate (as Ewie suggested) makes it look as if you have no control - and evidently in this speaker's estimation, destiny is also out of the control of an individual.

    It seems as if there are individual interpretations of whether or not we can control our destiny.
     

    Topsie

    Senior Member
    English-UK
    Perhaps Destiny is closer to the Hindu/Buddhist idea of Karma, whereas Fate corresponds to the the Muslim Mektoub(?)
    (In other words, the things that you learn in life apparently by pure chance/fate are in fact part of your Karmic destiny!)
     
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