Literature and Destiny


By Helena Lind

The nature of humankind's struggle for meaning and our more or less heroic quests to change or fulfill Destiny has always been an intriguing part of the human life.

It is no surprise that famous authors, poets, and play writers draw from the central theme of Destiny, a practice that has led to the development of quite a handful thought-provoking masterpieces.

As the central plot of a literary work, Destiny is a recurring theme, and, as a side plot, it is even more common. Destiny and Fate are often incorporated into the many literal genres we have today; from romance to action, thriller, crime, tragedy, and even comedy. Like most themes in literature, certain depictions from certain authors paints outstanding pictures of the concept. And among that growing list, these following literal titles stand out.


William Shakespeare tells the magnificent tale of a man that cannot be killed by any man born of a woman. Of course, we are talking about the Scottish Play - Macbeth. While most representations of Destiny in the contemporary literal verse picture it from the perspective of a man trying desperately to outclass the force of Destiny, the tale of Macbeth starts with a military general who, after being granted a glimpse of his fate, decides to take matters into his own hands.

Macbeth is a serving general under the Scottish King Duncan.

Along with Banquo, a military man like himself, he is able to repel rebel uprisings against the throne from Ireland and Norway. Upon their return from victory, the two generals are intercepted by a gang of witches who reveal that Macbeth would be made Thane of Cawdor, and subsequently, King of Scotland.

Banquo is told that he would be the progenitor of a lineage of Kings. The two men, however, do not take these revelations to heart and proceed on their journey without paying much heed to the witches.

This changes when one of Macbeth's men arrives with the news that he, Macbeth, has been made Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is without doubt perplexed by this news and the recently strengthened possibility that he might eventually become king of Scotland, but still, entertains some doubt. At his castle, he narrates all that has happened to his wife, Lady Macbeth, who, unlike himself, covets the throne and has utmost faith in her Husband's now disclosed Destiny.

In a classical scenario of playing devil's advocate, she brushes aside all of Macbeth's reservations and persuades him to fulfil his Destiny. Or rather, in essence, simply kill King Duncan, whom she now views as the opposition to Macbeth's destined right to the throne.

Upon her advice, the two hatch up a plan to kill the king at night, intoxicate his royal chamberlains and blame his death on them. And soon Macbeth is upon the throne, seemingly fulfilling his Destiny, but the forces of Destiny have other plans for him and this time, it consisted of more strife than glory. Aware of the witches prophesy that Banquo's lineage is destined for the throne, Macbeth contracts a group of Assassins to murder both Banquo and his son, Fleance.

Banquo dies, but his son gets away into the dead of night. Outraged and perturbed, Macbeth's insecurity gets the better of him, and the King soon turns paranoid. Adding to that is the appearance of Banquo's ghost at a feast. Obviously startled, Macbeth enters into a fit of fearful rage in the presence of his guests who are oblivious of the presence of the apparition.

This demonstration, coupled with Macbeth's now apparent madness weakens his dominion over the throne. All around the castle and all over the empire subtle but piercing murmurs rise questioning his legitimacy over the throne. In an act of desperation, Macbeth heads straight to the witches' cavern to discover the remaining part of his current, not so glorious Destiny. The witches advise:

Be wary of Macduff!

Macduff is a nobleman who's always challenged Macbeth's right to the throne. Yet, Macbeth cannot be harmed by any man borne of a woman, he would be safe until the time when Birnam Wood, a forest, moves into his fortress Dunsidane Castle. Bolstered by this revelation, Macbeth is relieved. He is certain that all men must be born of women and that the Birnam forest has no legs to walk into Dunisdane.

All that's left to be dealt with now is just Macduff. Yet, Macduff was is not to be found since he fled to England. Macbeth, in his paranoia, conquers Macduff's castle and murders his wife and children in the process. Overwhelmed with grief, Macduff swears bitter vengeance. One of King Duncan's sons, Prince Malcolm, succeeds in mustering an army, and Macduff is quick to pledge his allegiance.

The Malcolm-Macduff army is backed by a majority of Scottish nobles who have enough of Macbeth's tyranny and ruthless murders. Meanwhile, adding to Macbeth's already compounding problems, Lady Macbeth goes mad and eventually commits suicide. Her husband is left distraught and downcast, but still leveraging on the witches' last two prophecies. He stages an intimidating defence at Dunisdane, but has soon to discover that, indeed, some men are not born of women, and, that trees actually can walk.

Because the forest acquires legs, since the advancing English army is using boughs crafted out of Birnam wood; so Birnam wood is, in fact, coming into Dunisdane – and the first half of the prophecy is thus fulfilled. In the ensuing battle, Macbeth and his forces fight gallantly but are overwhelmed by the English troops, and, as fate would have it, Macbeth encounters Macduff on the battlefield.

The latter goes on to reveal that he wasn't 'of a woman born', but, that he was instead ripped off his mother's womb, i.e. born by a Caesarean section, just before beheading Macbeth. Following the death of Macbeth, Malcolm is crowned king. Through this play, Shakespeare paints a picturesque image of one fundamental tenet of Destiny; it's manifestation via seemingly impractical or impossible routes.

Because Destiny has to be fulfilled

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

An even more enticing and relatable work of literature that tells a tale of Destiny is 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' by Thornton Wilder. The book follows the lives of three protagonists, their seemingly unconnected lives, and their date with Destiny atop the bridge of San Luis.

Dona Maria Marquessa-de Montemayor is the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant. At a young age, she was shipped off to an arranged marriage that saw her conceive a daughter, Clara. Dona Maria showers all her pent-up love on the child, for the most part unrequited. Clara get's engaged and, subsequently, moves to Spain with her new husband.

Dona Maria, however, is hell-bent on fostering a healthy relationship between herself and her daughter – she sends droves of letters, most of which did never receive any reply. When Dona Maria learns that her daughter is pregnant she heads immediately to Santa Maria De Cluxambuqua to offer supplication on her behalf.

And was there she meets Pepita, a lonely convent girl in need of love and affection – she hopes to add value to both of their lives, and the two walk home together. Manuel and Esteban are two twin brothers who spent the formative years of their lives together at a convent. In this lackluster setting, they grow fond of each other and become emotionally inseparable. In search of greener pastures, they leave the convent and join a local theatre.

It is there that they meet Camila Perichole, a famous actress who Manuel falls in love with. Esteban questions his brother about his feelings for Camila. Later, he is involved in an accident and subsequently catches an infection. Esteban attempts to take care of Manuel as his health deteriorates, but is, instead, met with resentment from his brother who blames him for interfering in his relationship with Camila.

When Manuel dies, Esteban is left devastated and even suicidal. He, however, receives comfort from Maria del Pilar and Captain Alvaro, who suggest that he joins the latter in for life at sea. He accepts this opportunity and proceeds to Lima where he is supposed to meet the Captain. Uncle Pio is a largely successful and savvy businessman with a knack for all things art.

He soon meets Camila and convinces her to become an actress. Through the process of coaching Camila, he falls in love with her but keeps it a secret. Camila is separated from Uncle Pio when she marries a wealthy viceroy. Her rise in societal status severs all ties with Uncle Pio. Things go south when she contracts smallpox.

The disease leaves her in a state of penury and depression, however, Uncle Pio is his still in love with her. In an act of concern, he asks for custody of one of her three sons, one who is also frail in health. Camila agrees, and Uncle Pio and Camila's son set off to his home. All protagonists, Dona Maria, Esteban, Uncle Pio and their fellow travelers, all on their path towards a new life, meet at the Bridge of San Luis Rey.

They are set to literally cross the bridges of their previous limitations into a new beginning; this, however, is not to be as fate seals their destinies.The bridge collapses and everybody dies. Thornton Wilder's masterpiece is a classical description of the absolute and, sometimes seemingly illogical power of Destiny, and how we as humans remain subject to her unwavering forces.

And while we might try to overturn Destiny's decisions, it is, for the most part, an exercise in futility.

Last updated 25 March 2024

If you wish to find out more about The Destiny Book why not read the article A Teaser to my Book on Destiny.