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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

The philosophical and often comedic novel by Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, has two major characters, the Master and Jacques, and an unnamed narrator. The Master and Jacques in particular mention other people in the stories they tell each other, but these characters really only serve to reinforce their views on life.

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The narrator introduces the dialogues and often interjects with humorous observations that directly address the reader.

You see Reader, I'm into my stride and I have it entirely in my power to make you wait a year, two years, three years, to hear the story of Jacques's love affairs, by separating him from his Master and making the both of them undergo all the perils I please . . . But I'll let them off lightly with an uncomfortable night, and you with this delay.

Jacques is the Master's servant. He was a soldier twenty years earlier and claims that a bullet to his knee brought him adventure, "both happy and unhappy" love and a limp. From this perspective he is a self-proclaimed fatalist. For example, when the Master admonishes him for falling in love, he states

If I did fall in love with her, what would be so strange in that? Are we free to decide whether or not to fall in love? And it we were, do we have the power to behave as if we weren't?

The Master has also been a soldier, and probably a higher rank than Jacques. He is rather set in his ways, and at times grumpy, calling Jacques a "devil of a man." Nevertheless he not only listens to him, but often pushes him to talk.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 395

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....

(The entire section contains 1288 words.)

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Critical Essays