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The novel by Marguerite Duras represents the society which faces various social challenges. The same society, when it gives in to the adversities, suffers from the aftermath of these unfavorable conditions. The setting for the narration is Indochina, which is formerly a French colony. Events in the novel illustrate how acutely the community reacts to matters connected with racialism, sex and desire, wealth and poverty, family ties and love. All these aspects are present in every society, and the setting of the narration depicts the same as well. The author demonstrates how the above-mentioned issues affected the day-to-day activities of the small Indochina town. In her fiction, Duras shows the major flaws that are present in the contemporary for the author society such as money, racism, paid sexual delights, etc. and the way they are able to affect human lives.
The novel describes the life story of a young girl from a poor family. She meets a Chinese man, who is older than the girl, but is able to provide a financial support for her. In this regard, they both get involved into, so to speak, the mutually beneficial relationship: the girl in a search for money seduces him, while the man desires the sexual delights from the younger girl. Throughout the novel, the girl is presented as a controller in every dimension of the relationship, especially when it is linked to money. The family of the young girl benefits from this relationship since it receives significant material gains from the Chinese. Society is not impressed by this relationship and a strong opposition arises from its members. However, this circumstance does not affect the two lovers. Besides, the girls family had too much support from the Chinese man to criticize the relationship. Duras uses her eloquence in art to depict the narrators lover as a weak personality and a victim of love, who ends up in manipulation and finally separation. The protagonist has a deep connection with her mother and lover and she is torn between these two individuals who are extremely important to her life. The narrator loses her brother and this discourages her heart, which yearns for the continuity of her family. The novel further tells about that the girls family moves to France and this marks the end of her relationship with the Chinese man.
The novel gives a clear picture of the society and the issues within it, which seem inevitable. These problems are a reflection of the topical phenomena within a society. These themes involve sex and desire among others. This theme is evident in the narrators behavior that uses sex to lure the older Chinese man into having an affair with her. The Chinese man, on the other hand, falls into her trap due to his desire for the sexual fulfillment. The rate of immorality in the society and sometimes the desire for sex is triggered by lust and poverty:
Id like to devour and be devoured by those flour-white breasts of hers. I am worn out with desire for Helene Lagonelle. I am worn out with desire. I want to take Helene Lagonelle with me to where every evening, my eyes shut, I have imparted to me the pleasure that makes you cry out. Id like to give Helene Lagonelle to the man who does that to me, so he may do it in turn to her. I want it to happen in my presence, I want her to do it as I wish, I want her to give herself where I give myself. Its via Helene Lagonelles body, through it, that the ultimate pleasure would pass from him to me a pleasure unto death (Duras, 2012).
The above passage demonstrates the desire for intimate relations for the main heroine and her lover and how these moments of love would give them bliss and excitement. The narrators lover is blind by her love since he is led by his lustful desires (Restuccia, 2000). He ends up intimidated by the young girl who has no love for him despite the numerous hours she spends with him.
Family relationships are another theme that Duras has used in the novel to convey her message. The girl values her family much even though her family has disappointed her whereas, in the novel, she is seen often in and out of school and often stays alone in the solitary places. The narrator values her family greatly. Although she spends most time with her lover, she eventually finds time to be with her family late at night. Moreover, the fact that the narrator usurps the Chinese mans money and gives it to her family is an indication of how she values them and their welfare (Duras, 2012). Long hours spent by the protagonist with her lover do not show any emotional connection. Additionally, the narrator seems to be with the man for his financial support, which she channels to her family. The death of her brother from pneumonia touches her heart and the narrator grieves for him:
My younger brother died in three days, of bronchial pneumonia. His heart gave out. It was then that I left my mother. It was during the Japanese occupation. Everything came to an end that day. I never asked her any more questions about our childhood, about herself. She died, for me, of my younger brothers death. So did my elder brother. I never got over the horror they inspired in me then (Duras, 2012).
These words indicate remorse and lamentation of the major heroine and, given a chance, she would have given her life for her brother to live. This represents the strength of family relationships which remain strong irrespective of challenges these relationships face.
Wealth and poverty is another theme in the novel, which is seen in both the Chinese man and narrators family. Money is claimed to be the root of evil and this rises from attempts to make money in a wrong way by seducing the financially capable Chinese man, in spite of being older than a girl. Regardless people are against the relationship, the benefits arising from the relationship surpass the pressure from the society to stop it.
Racialism is evident in the novel since the two lovers are of different races. This eliminates the issue of race as a barrier to mutual relationships in the society (Garrett-Petts, 1999). Notwithstanding the society initially saw the man as an alien, the issue of his race soon became extinct and negligible owing to the fact that the narrator does not mind the race of her lover.
The author shows a powerful sense of imagery, language and personification. There are many elements of the literary work that indicate that the author had the similar experience. This is the reason why the narration comes out with some originality and uniqueness that could only be achieved through the personal experience. There is some extent of mystery that can be detected by the readers and she provokes feelings of sadness, emptiness and confusion.