Polarity establishment, asymmetric division, and acquisition of cell fates are critical steps during early development. In this review, we discuss processes that set up the embryonic axes, with an emphasis on polarity establishment and asymmetric division. We begin with the first asymmetric division in the C. elegans embryo, where symmetry is broken by the local inactivation of actomyosin cortical contractility. This contributes to establishing a polarized distribution of PAR proteins and associated components on the cell cortex along the longitudinal embryonic axis, which becomes the anterior-posterior (AP) axis. Thereafter, AP polarity is maintained through reciprocal negative interactions between the anterior and posterior cortical domains. We then review the mechanisms that ensure proper positioning of the centrosomes and the mitotic spindle in the one-cell embryo by exerting pulling forces on astral microtubules. We explain how a ternary complex comprised of G? (GOA-1/GPA-16), GPR-1/GPR-2, and LIN-5 is essential for anchoring the motor protein dynein to the cell cortex, where it is thought to exert pulling forces on depolymerizing astral microtubules. We proceed by providing an overview of cell cycle asynchrony in two-cell embryos, as well as the cell signaling and spindle positioning events that underly the subsequent asymmetric divisions, which establish the dorsal-ventral and left-right axes. We then discuss how AP polarity ensures the unequal segregation of cell fate regulators via the cytoplasmic proteins MEX-5/MEX-6 and other polarity mediators, before ending with an overview of how the fates of the early blastomeres are specified by these processes.