Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Fate and Free Will

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Fate and Free Will

Your parents didn't just have to meet (and do a little more, but we'll talk about that in this section) in order to have you. Their parents had to meet, and theirs, and theirs, and so on. Every little bit of history, even the horrific parts, conspired to bring them all together. At least, if you think that your existence is the result of fate.

Jonathan Safran Foer (the character) seems to think that his grandfather's existence is the culmination of over a century of fateful occurrences. But where does fate end and free will begin? Is fate really making Safran sleep with every woman in sight, or is it something else?

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. What choices bring characters together? Which characters are brought together by fate?
  2. Was Brod fated to live a sad, tragic existence from the very beginning? Why doesn't she try and change her fate, even after she has the vision of her own rape?
  3. Was the shtetl's fate sealed from the beginning, as the result of Trachim's mysterious wagon accident? Could they have done anything to avoid destruction of their village?
  4. Why does The Kolker go to work at the flour mill? How would his and Brod's life have been different had the accident not happened? Or if the accident had killed him?

Chew on This

Jonathan believes more in fate, and Alex believes more in free will. Jonathan is just looking to see what he will find, while Alex consciously makes choices (saving money, kicking his father out of the house) to make a better life for himself.

Safran uses "fate" as an excuse for his infidelities, when in fact, he makes the choice to cheat on his wife and to have over 100 mistresses.