The Lovers by Marguerite Duras

Posted on February 20, 2008

In this paper we are going to analyze, to try to look deeper or even may be to feel the main ideas, concerns, themes of the famous novel of Marguerite Duras “The Love”. In order to do this, we have to stop a little on the personality of the author, this is really important for understanding the style and main ideas of the novel. She was born in Saigon French Indochina. Later on she decided to take up law in the native county of her parents – France, but instead developed her talent as a writer. She wrote a number of novels, plays, short stories, was the director of several films, but her best selling book was The Lover ( L’Armant in French). This novel was translated into 43 languages and in the year 1984 it received the Prix Goncourt reward. There was also a movie shot after this novel, the director of which was Jean-Jasques Annaud. Some time later, Duras also published another book, which was a little bit different from the first one under the name – L’Armant de la Chine du Nord. Mostly her works were of an unusual style and full of romanticism. She was considered to belong also to Nouveau roman literally movement in France.

The Lover is without double an autobiographical novel and there are some facts confirming this. For example the real lover of the author was also Chinese and his name was Lee. The last information that she received about him was that he became born Christian and that he really loved his family. He died at the same city where they met for the first time. The main heroine of the novel is 15, the same was the age of Duras when she had this love affair.

The book is written in an unusual manner, not presenting the chronological sequences of the events and thoughts, this is more a collection of memories, feelings and dreams. The novel mixes up the present events with the past events. The short book of around 100 pages looks like an experiment, due to its style of recollecting ideas and images. At the very beginning the reader is not able to catch the thread of narration, however, really quickly he is amazed by novel. The author perfectly shows how human mind can rapidly recollect the events of the past and mix them with the present surrounding world. The memories seem to be so deep and so emotional that a person would never be able either to forget them or to get rid of them. The novel is absolutely far from simple romantic stories with happy ends, somehow it seems even to break the limits of the permitted relations for such a young girl, but this never makes it perfunctory or obscene.
The story is told from the third person and then suddenly from the main heroin herself. This also contributes probably to the feeling that there are two worlds: the usual one, most people used to believe in living in and the other subtle and hidden world of person’s desires and feelings. Happiness is hardly separated from violence, love and hated are mixed up, thus neither the themes nor the message of the novel are simple and transparent. The story is told in the way that sometimes there is a feeling that you are listening to a person who is talking in the state of hypnosis.

Certainly the main portion of attention is drawn from the very beginning till the end of the story to the young girl, who is always sad, sad because of the situation in her family, because of lack of tender and real love from her mother’s side, because of her responsibility for the youngest brother, later because of her involvement into the life of a grown up woman. She belongs to a French family, but living in Indochina, the status of the family is rather poor and low due to the death of the father.

From one side this is still a very young a little naive girl, she is not able to have an affair based on pure sexual relations without falling in love. On the other hand, in many senses, this is a mature personality, psychologically older than her physical age. But it is not possible to state whether she is so wise or just gets into such situation only due to her curiosity. At the school, which she attends, other girls and she herself are not much interested in “taking care of lepers, the cholera stricken”.

From the very beginning we have to pay attention to the appearance of the girl, because it is the same dual as her inner world: she has plaits and funny man’s hat, but on the other hand, her transparent dress and shoes make her look like a young prostitute. Thus there is also a contrast, because she is not stunningly beautiful and at the same time, when somebody looks at her he can not just pass by without noticing her ugly beauty.
And exactly dressed like this she is noticed by a wealthy Chinese guy, who in a way is a contrast to her, to her clothes, appearance, manners, status. Actually, he could probably find another girl or woman who would be right for him, but he could not stand the temptation to have this one. And he starts conversation with her, though in reality the conversation seems not appropriate, she is far from his business and his compliments she accepts with childish easiness. When the girl agrees to be taken to Saigon by him, it is again not quite clear, weather she just wants to check her charms and ability to attract men’s attention, or she is in really interested in this man. Maybe she is just sick and tired of her family situation, of lack of interest and care towards her and is looking to get it from a stranger.

Concerning the young man and his motives for the relations with a girl, it is also hard to judge only from one side, he was probably fascinated by her image, by her youth, by her feelings, however there was no intention from his side to marry her, although he was desperately wishing to see her and to be with her.

As their relations continue to develop, the girl falls in love, most likely she didn’t expect it and she didn’t want it, as she wanted first of all to be loved, but in reality she gives her body and a part of her soul to a man, who became her lover.

In the event that happened after the restaurant, we again come across the duality common for the novel. On the one hand the lover hits and rapes the girl, she feels pain, humiliation, but on the other hand there is some kind of cathartic pleasure for her. Before the situation seemed to be under her control, now the man got what he wanted without her permission. But when she makes him pay the same sum of money that he would have to pay to the prostitute if he had sex with her, and he paid, in a way she manages to take her power back. The man is obsessed by the girl, not however wanting to marry her. Once the girl says that the real reason for her to be with him was money, the reader feels that it is not in this way, she probably doesn’t love him deeply, but she is without doubt also attracted to him and nothing is so simple as just money. She maybe chose him for more important mission than being her man or her husband, she chose him as a person who would help her and push her to be reborn from her old life into new one.

At the end of the story it is absolutely clear that there will be no usual happy end, and that they won’t be together and would have to part sooner or later, but they still have love for each other, which is probably far from that classical feeling described by poets and shown in melodramas, but if they are strong enough to part, that doesn’t mean that their love was not deep enough and that many year later the lover will not appear in the life of a writer, saying that he still loves her.

At least Duras wrote the book later, when she was a quite famous writer.
Overall, The Lovers is a deeply emotional, sensitive and subtle story about a man and a girl, about their love and the power of this love, about the psychological fight and about erotic desires. In a way it can be also called a feminist novel, because it mainly underlines the strength of a very young girl, woman, who has little or even no idea about relations between men and women and still she is able to attract and somehow even to control a man who is much older than she.

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