Jacques the Fatalist and His Master

by Denis Diderot

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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.

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