Main Characters

Can we alter our future or is our destiny predetermined? This question has been fiercely debated for centuries, in both literary and scientific worlds. In All the Light We Cannot See: a Novel by Anthony Doerr, "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov, and Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, the main character's beliefs on free will versus destiny are challenged and evolve based on the events that unfold around them. The main characters are born in a precarious time and the events that are unfolding around them leave them feeling powerless. Through chance or destiny, opportunities come up for the main characters to take fate into their own hands and alter their destiny.

The ability to control one's fate, or the appearance thereof, is demonstrated in each novel. In Interstellar, professor Brand tells Cooper, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Taken from the famous poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas, Brand is encouraging Cooper to defy the odds and cheat his own certain death to save mankind. The earth is dying and has a limited number of before it will no longer be able to support life. Cooper embarks on a precarious mission into outer space to find a habitable planet. In All The Light We Cannot See, Werner earns a place at a prestigious school in Germany, which proselytizes Nazi mythology. Driven by his ambition to escape the orphanage and a future of working in the mines, he ignores his own beliefs which are contrary to that of the Nazis. Werner tells his sister this is an opportunity to gain an education, a way out of poverty, and that it won't change him. But his younger sister tells him, "Don't tell lies. Lie to yourself, Werner, but don't lie to me," foreshadowing the internal battle between destiny and duty that consumers Werner. In Nightfall, the scientists try to save any information that can be saved, so that the next cycle does not start off with nothing.

Each character's own view on their ability to impact their destiny changes throughout the stories. Cooper believes that "... our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.” He makes the difficult choice to leave his children behind to travel the universe through a wormhole in search of a habitable planet to support life. He believes he will make it back to earth in time to save his family - in reality he is gone for 67 years. When he does find his way back to his daughter, he realizes that he never had free will as his life was predestined to enable his daughter who ends up saving mankind. As teenagers living in Europe during the Second World War, Werner and Marie-Laure feel they have little control over their life. Marie-Laure lost her sight at the age of six and feels certain that her life will be small and contained, a fraction of what it would have been if she had her vision. Slowly throughout the book Marie-Laure finds her way, and through small actions alters her future. Though she does not see her actions as extraordinary. She tells Werner, "... it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?" Werner, blinded by his ambition, focused on his work and held onto the belief that this was his duty, his fate to help the German army, that he could not change anything. Until his path crossed with Marie-Laure. They both come to see that they can assert their free will in small but crucial ways that make a difference. In Nightfall, Anton and others prepare for the pending eclipse by creating a place known as the Hideout, filled with “men of action and strong, healthy women that can breed children,” and invent a grease-burning torch to block out the darkness and prevent chaos. In each story, the main characters believe in their ability, or come to believe in it, and take steps to alter their destiny.

Within each story, the main characters are living in a time of extreme peril. The events unfolding around them are bigger than they are and test their resolve, integrity, and belief in their ability to control their own fate. Interstellar is "... about quantum physics with deep philosophical quandaries about fate, the universe and our place in it," says Adam Graham of Detroit News. Indeed, Cooper has the illusion of free will but all of the events in his life, from the unexplained flight crash to when he was communicating with his daughter through the fifth dimension, point to his life being predetermined to enable his daughter to save mankind. In All the Light We Cannot See, Werner and Marie-Laure, who each face individual challenges while living in warring countries, learn they have the power to shape their destiny in small but impactful ways. By defying his duty, Werner saves Marie-Laure life proving that free can triumph over destiny. In Nightfall, the planet of Lagash is surrounded by six suns and every 2049 years is plunged into darkness. Having never experienced darkness, humanity is plunged into chaos and dies, thus having to start the cycle over. The scientists take precautions to protect the astronomical truths so that, "The next cycle will start off with the truth, and when the next eclipse comes, mankind will at last be ready for it."

Born in a precarious time, the characters in all three stories are faced with uncertainty and potential death, take fate into their own hands to alter their destiny. In All the Light We Cannot See: a Novel by Anthony Doerr, we see "... it is the grace that allows us to survive the probable," as two teenagers find their way through the war. The main characters in Interstellar by Christopher Nolan and "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov have the illusion of free will but are not able to alter the course predetermined for them, with catastrophic consequences for the people of Lagash. Is free will an illusion? Or are we masters of our own destiny? The answer most likely lies somewhere in the middle. For small day-to-day things, we can make our own choices - what we might wear to school, the music we listen to or what we watch on TV. But it may be too late to stop the chain reaction from climate change.