Jacques the Fatalist and His Master Characters

Denis Diderot

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, who presents the conversations that compose the book. No description of him is provided. He frequently interrupts his characters to interject comments about the relationship between fiction and reality. He emphasizes the “made-up” character of his work, often changing from one story to another before the first has been completed. He combines authentic references to contemporary events with unexplained and bizarre jumps in chronology. He sometimes mentions other novelists, including Miguel de Cervantes and Samuel Richardson.


Jacques, a valet. He is the hero of the book, and his adventures are its chief subject. His exact age is not given, but he often discusses his military service, which took place twenty years before his dialogues with the Master; therefore, he is probably in his forties. He walks with a limp because one of his knees was shattered while he was in the army. He is attractive to women, as his many adventures indicate. A nonstop talker, he is subject to frequent distractions in his storytelling. He often repeats fatalistic slogans but arrives at no fixed conclusion about the effect on one’s actions of accepting fatalism. Fatalism does, however, influence his attitude, which is one of resigned cheerfulness. His tales usually have as their theme the near escapes from disaster occasioned by his frequent romances.

The Master

The Master, the principal conversation partner of Jacques. He is not described physically, but, like Jacques, he has seen military service. He is probably somewhat older than his valet. His principal role is to prod Jacques to untangle his stories. Without much success, he endeavors to get Jacques to complete one story before beginning another. He is generally in a good mood but is occasionally grumpy. He is heavily dependent on Jacques.

The innkeeper’s wife

The innkeeper’s wife, the teller of one of the main stories in the book. She is no longer “in the first flush of youth” but is still attractive. She is tall and full-figured, with beautiful hands. Like Jacques, she is a nonstop talker. Beneath a sometimes gruff exterior, she is unusually kindhearted. Her story is about the complicated relations, mixing love and jealousy, between the Marquis des Arcis and Madame de la Pommeraye. She recounts her story with considerable polish. How someone in her circumstances has come to possess intimate knowledge of the nobility is not explained.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

There are four major characters: Jacques, the master, the narrator, and the innkeeper’s wife. The narrator sets the mood and tone of the novel from his opening staccato series of questions and answers: “How did they meet? By chance like everyone else. What were their names? What’s that got to do with you?... Where were they going to? Does anyone ever really know where they are going to?”

This voice recurs throughout the narrative, haranguing the reader and upsetting expectations at every turn. Though he is identified with the author, it is important to recognize the distinction between the narrator’s persona and the actual Denis Diderot, who had considerable life outside the novel.Diderot himself cautioned readers to seek an author not in one of his characters but in his entire body of work. The reader, also a minor character, is a creation representing a group of typical readers’ attitudes and not necessarily those of the actual reader. Twentieth century readers are less likely to insist on the rules of literary composition (in particular, unity) and less likely to question the use of earthy vernacular. Otherwise, the insistence on romantic adventure, impossible coincidence, excessive action, wealthy and highborn characters; the impatience with the slow-moving, philosophic, and “realistic”; the insistence on inconsequential detail and description rather than on gestures and nuances of the spoken word; and above all, the passion for love stories—all are quite timeless.


(The entire section is 617 words.)