Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter Analysis
The first book of de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is the most creative and expressionistic of the four. Her approach to the earliest part of her life is in the spirit of William Wordsworth’s epigram to his “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” here expressed as “The Child is the mother of the Woman.” Since the realm of childhood is often almost an infinite distance from an adult’s consciousness, and since de Beauvoir always speaks in the voice of a mature adult, the child who preceded the woman might be especially elusive and difficult to recapture. To close the distance, de Beauvoir projects her adult voice from the start—serious and erudite, with no concessions to the limits of a child’s thought patterns or linguistic limitations—but uses it to convey emotional urgency, a total preoccupation with the self, and a wild willfulness which suggests the operations of the child’s mind. The motto for this book might be Paul Gaugin’s comment, “There is salvation only in extremes,” for the young de Beauvoir is characterized by “impetuous vitality and a lack of all moderation.” In the opening pages, she is presented in terms of her responses to phenomena that initially developed her senses, all of her reactions framed as versions of an absolute, permitting no alternative visions or possibilities. If she does not like a certain food, she vomits. If she is forbidden to peel a plum, she runs howling down the boulevard. If she is...
(The entire section is 1963 words.)
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