Study Guide

"Fools Say"

by Nathalie Sarraute

"Fools Say" Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

"Fools Say” is composed of thirteen sections which embody the subdialogue or subconversation of unidentified individuals. Nathalie Sarraute deals with what she calls “tropisms,” which may be defined as one’s immediate reactions, in all of their minutiae, to outside stimuli. (“Tropism” is a biological term which refers to an organism being either attracted to or repelled by a stimulus.) These tropisms, substrata of psychological reactions, constitute a nonverbal reality to which Sarraute assigns words. The hidden depths of a person’s emotional or psychological complexity lie far beneath any rational patterns of behavior. At this level, human psychology is in constant flux. Sarraute focuses on these ephemeral responses because human beings—regardless of group, gender, creed, color, or nationality—participate in this tropistic realm.

In re-creating such subtle psychological data, Sarraute ignores the fully developed characters which, in a traditional novel, provide readers with a sense of reality. She eliminates any appeal to outside or verifiable reality through her use of shifting voices in contexts which are completely open to speculation and interpretation. While the pronouns shift dizzyingly, each voice in “Fools Say” seems to exist because of a need to find a secure place amid the voices in conflict. Only glimpses of relationships are perceived. The progression of the novel is circular; from the fears in adolescence to the fears of so-called adulthood, the nightmarish suspicion persists that one does not exist or will not be heard. Subtle fusions of thought and feeling at the level of the tropism constitute human reality for this author. Because of the constant shift of voices, there is no way of rephrasing the experience that each reader will have when plunged into this intangible, always malleable reality as re-created by Sarraute.

For Sarraute, man’s linguistic arsenals, all of his categories, theories, and systems, lead him to conclude falsely that there is a word for everything. Furthermore, man argues—again falsely—that anything which does not fit into his linguistic...

(The entire section is 877 words.)