Study Guide

I Am the Messenger Fate and Free Will

By Markus Zusak

Fate and Free Will

I fall deep inside me and feel trapped. I fall through several layers of darkness, almost reaching the bottom, when a hand seems to pull me up by the throat and into the pain of reality. Someone is literally dragging me through the kitchen. The fluorescent light knifes me in the eyes, and the smell of pies and sauce makes me want to vomit. (2.2.26)

When the men are in his house with balaclavas, Ed thinks about what's happening in his life, but he doesn't bother doing anything about it. Even though he's decided to follow the cards to see what comes of it, he feels trapped, as if he has no other choice but to go to the addresses and help the people at them.

On Thursday night, I leave the card game at Audrey's early. A feeling clutters me. It makes me stand up and leave, almost without saying a word. The time has arrived, and I know I need to be standing outside that house at the end of Edgar Street— a house held up by the violence that occurs inside it almost every night. (2.2.47)

Check out the way Ed describes this: he needs to be at Edgar Street, as though that's already preordained. He doesn't think about choosing to go there or not; he feels he has to go and stat. What would happen if he didn't show up? Does he really need to go as badly as he thinks?

Clubs are no snack, my son. The question is, Are you up to it? Or is that question irrelevant? Surely you weren't up to the Ace of Diamonds. But you did it. (2.3.20)

In the letter he receives, Ed gets this backwards compliment. It's like saying "you look way better than usual." Thanks, we guess. But the real matter here is whether the question is "irrelevant" or not. On the one hand, of course it's not, because Ed can choose to go through with the cards or not. But on the other, it seems like he might be the one doing the choosing.

I dismiss the Ace of Clubs to the same top drawer as the Ace of Diamonds. For a moment, I imagine a full hand of aces in that drawer, fanned out as a player would hold them in a game. I never thought I wouldn't want four aces. In a card game, you pray for a hand like that. My life is not a card game. (2.4.31)

A four of a kind of aces? That's golden, but for once Ed isn't interested in what would win him a hand of Poker against his friends. Yet in some ways, his life is like a card game. Ed lets someone else literally deal the cards that determine where he goes, what he does, and who he helps.

"Could you tell him greed hasn't swallowed me up yet?" The sentence lands between us like a ball with no air in it. (2.721)

Here Father O'Reilly's bro sends him a message. It's a very different message than the ones Ed is delivering all over town, but it's worth noting that it's the only one that comes from someone other than the mystery man. With this one sentence, Ed changes the course of his path from fate to free will. He's the one telling the priest this, not the man who organized all of this.

I want to tell them, but I realize that all I do is deliver the message. I don't decipher it or make sense of it for them. They need to do that themselves. (2.Q.44)

As Ed reflects on the message for Gavin and Daniel Rose, he thinks about his role in the set-up. He wants to do more, but he goes against this desire because he doesn't think that's what he's supposed to do. Ed goes against his own feelings to stick to the plan.

It makes me think about all the people I've run into. What if they're all messengers, like me, and they're all threatened and desperate just to get through what they have to do to survive? I wonder if they, too, have received playing cards and firearms in their letter boxes or if they've had their own specific tools provided. (3.9.20)

After Ed's told he might not be the only one getting mysterious cards in the mail, he gives it some serious thought. If there are others, then Ed wonders whether no one is really deciding what to do by themselves. Perhaps everyone is following a series of cards and addresses to get from person to person. It just got real.

Yet I know it's futile. They do it because they can. Those words lap me a few times, and I know that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be. For spades, this is the final trial I need to dig myself out of. We have to stay. (3.K.28)

Ed's not sure if he should chase after the people who left the message in the movie theater, but he eventually doesn't. We're not sure whether he even decides it's a bad idea, or just knows it's not what he's meant to do. Notice how he says it not where he's "supposed to be"? Ed thinks it's all up to fate.

"You are like he was," Keith enlightens me, "and just like him, you were most likely to die the same way— a quarter of what you could have been". (5.the end is not the end.71)

Daryl and Keith tell Ed that he was heading down the same path as his dad, and it didn't end pretty. We can get behind that. But we're not sure Ed needed to be controlled and sent all over the place just to make him think about his life choices.

He looks at me closely and says, "Keep living, Ed… It's only the pages that stop here." (5.the folder.26)

We thought we were the ones reading, not Ed. The mystery man tells Ed everything was written for his life, and he's just been going through the pages this whole time. Woah. Naturally Ed's not sure what to do next after mystery dude drops this bomb, and to be honest, we can't blame him.

"I did it because you are the epitome of ordinariness, Ed." He looks at me seriously. "And if a guy like you can stand up and do what you did for all those people, well, maybe everyone can. Maybe everyone can live beyond what they're capable of." He becomes intense now. Emotional. This is everything. "Maybe even I can…" (5.the folder.10).

… what? Maybe even he can what? The mystery man is quite an enigma, so we're not sure exactly what he wants to do. We are sure, though, that Ed has done exactly what the mystery man wanted or planned this entire time. The only question left is: did Ed do it because he wanted to, or because he had to?

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