I presented this badly in class on Thursday, so hopefully this will make more sense.
One of the themes I noticed in the novel was this ongoing debate between predetermination and free will. I don’t know that this argument is unique to Catholicism, but I may have noticed because I have that background. Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country and the Catholic faith is represented throughout the novel. One of the many references to this is on 144, when the hacendado is speaking of the Mass held for his First Communion at the chapel.
One of the first places this theme shows up is when John Grady is playing chess with the Dueña. The chessboard has long been used as a metaphor for life- a higher entity is controlling all the pieces (us) on the board. We have no free will as the pawns, so this is predestination. Free will is represented by the Dueña and John Grady actually manipulating the pieces. As the controllers, each has the freedom to choose the next move (133). Likewise, the Dueña points to this same theme in her rendition of the parable of the coiner (231, 241), representing free will, and the puppet show (231) representing predetermination.
It comes up again when John Grady is speaking to Pérez at the jail. Pérez talks about good and evil, suggesting that these qualities can both exist in the same space: “There can be in a man some evil. But we don’t think it is his own evil” (194). This hints at predetermination, as if man has no choice and evil controls him. When speaking about the prison, however, he gives the free will argument, “but this type of world, you see, this confinement. It gives a false impression. As if things are in control. If these men could be controlled they would not be here” (195).
Both sides of the debate are nicely represented, but no resolution to the argument is reached by the end of the novel. Perhaps this is also represented by the coiner’s coins- these concepts exist as two sides of the same coin, both converse and complimentary.