Like most thrillers and detective novels, The Shadow of the Wind relies on a series of coincidences, events that fall into line too neatly to seem realistic. The consistent occurrence of coincidences excites Daniel and builds a sense of destiny, as if the events are preordained and leading toward some fixed endpoint or objective. However, the final coincidence that Daniel discovers—that is, the fact that Carax and Penelope were half-siblings and their romance thus doomed—is a tragedy of no one’s design, with no greater meaning. After this discovery, Daniel realizes that the coincidences tying him to Julian don’t mean he’s part of any predetermined sequence of events but are only bringing him perilously close to tragedy himself. In his climactic act of killing Fumero, the villain who haunts both his and Carax’s lives, Daniel puts an end to these coincidences and forges ahead with a modest life that doesn’t pretend to be part of any grander dramatic pattern. While the idea of predetermined events seems alluring at the beginning of the novel, by the end it’s clear that subscribing to ideas of predestination incurs only unhappiness and tragedy.
Though Daniel and Fermín prove astute detectives, they are mostly guided by a series of almost unbelievable coincidences that lead deeper and deeper into Carax’s past, as if for a specific purpose. For example, Daniel speaks of his decision to take Carax’s novel from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books as inspired by chance’s “more flamboyant relative, destiny,” implying that his introduction to Carax’s saga is not at all random. Isaac Momfort offhandedly suggests that Daniel talk to his daughter Nuria, a former receptionist at Carax’s publisher, thinking she can tell him more about Carax’s work. Coincidentally, Nuria has also had a years-long affair with Julian and proves a goldmine of information about his childhood and flight from the city. Referring to the way in which Carax and Daniel’s lives coincide, Nuria herself states in her final letter to Daniel that “we are all linked together in a strange chain of destiny.” Similarly, Bea’s father just happens to be the president of the company that owns the old Aldaya house. Bea’s chance recollection of this fact allows Daniel to access the property and discover the secret tomb of Penelope and her stillborn son.
The fortuitous coincidences that guide Daniel’s investigation suggest that the events of his life are already determined, leading him to further discoveries in the service of some greater purpose. This is a comforting prospect, since it suggests that human events or human tragedies are not random; rather, everything builds up to something that will be worthwhile in the end.
However, the final coincidence Daniel discovers—Carax’s incestuous affair with Penelope and her horrible death—shows Daniel that these coincidences are ultimately meaningless. Daniel eventually learns that, unbeknownst to Carax, Mr. Aldaya is actually his father, and Penelope his half-sister. This explains both Mr. Aldaya’s seemingly random selection of Carax as a ward and his thunderous rage when he discovers his affair with Penelope. As a child, Julian views his chance absorption into the Aldaya family and his fateful encounter with Penelope as signs that they are “meant” to be together. Both he and Penélope claim to have dreamed of each other before they met. He spends his whole life believing that their destiny would’ve been fulfilled but for Mr. Aldaya’s intervention. However, it’s clear that Julian and Penelope could never actually be together, because they are related by blood.
In order to cover up the scandal, Mr. Aldaya locks Penelope in a room to give birth to her inbred son unaided, effectively dooming her to die in childbirth. Her gruesome death is not only a strong indictment of his personal character but also a statement that coincidences are not evidence of any predetermined cosmic order. Penelope’s romance is a fluke tragedy, and her death the result of petty human anger and chance misunderstanding. While she’s an alluring and enigmatic character at the beginning of the novel, the object of a “fated” passion, by the end it’s clear that her life is the result of sordid individual actions, rather than part of any determined scheme.
Ultimately, the novel’s rejection of determinism reflects a broader contemporary disillusionment with ideas of grand political destiny. In the 1930s and 1940s, Spain was controlled by various political parties, from anarchists to communists to fascists. Each party had divergent but strong ideology, and each asserted that their ideology represented a world order that would bring prosperity, stability, and political success to the nation. Fascist regimes in particular promulgated the claim that people were “destined” for a better future and entitled to wage war to achieve it. In the 1950s, the Spanish people found themselves trapped in a repressive authoritarian regime. Moreover, they remained a lonely and stubborn Fascist country even after the rest of the world had seemingly vanquished Fascism in World War II.
Spain suffered enormous civilian and military casualties during the Civil War, and in the decade after World War II horrifying stories about the atrocities that occurred were slowly becoming common knowledge; for example, Clara Barceló remarks that her father was killed for remaining loyal to friends who ultimately betrayed him during a regime change, his political integrity proving meaningless. Moreover, the postwar years delivered not the promised glittering future, but an era of poverty and austerity, evident in the Semperes’ struggling bookstore, the Aldayas’ lost fortune, and Fermín’s years as a beggar. These factors made people painfully aware of the dangers of subscribing to strong ideas of national destiny.
While the novel is in many ways a thriller, it ultimately celebrates small triumphs—saving Don Federico from the secret police, or keeping a small bookstore afloat against the odds. Any ideas about a grander destiny, or convictions that human lives are predetermined to fit within a grander scheme, whether personal or political, emerge as unreliable and dangerous to believe in.
Coincidence and Determinism ThemeTracker
Coincidence and Determinism Quotes in The Shadow of the Wind
It might have been that notion, or just chance, or its more flamboyant relative, destiny, but at that precise moment I knew I had already chosen the book I was going to adopt, or that was going to adopt me.
Nobody had noticed, nobody had paid attention, but as usual, the essential part of the matter had been settled before the story had begun, and by then it was too late.
He hated the man who had caused this calamity, this trail of death and misery: himself. He hated those filthy books to which he had devoted his life and about which nobody cared. He hated every stolen second and every breath.
I was afraid of listening to Julián and starting to believe, as he did, that we were all bound together in a strange chain of destiny, afraid of recognizing in you the Julián I had lost.