Themes and Meanings
With the dominant subjects of The Ogre being war and childhood, it is clear that Tournier’s most important theme is the perversion of youthful drives and energies in the pursuit of geo-political ends, particularly war. The way that he communicates this message is through the repeated use of paradox. That the protagonist is viewed as a marginal criminal during peacetime because of his pedophilia and is rewarded and given responsibility over children during war is one paradox. That he has more freedom within the constrictions of the army and as a prisoner of war is another. Throughout the work, Abel’s strange pursuit of child-carrying, his interest in genetic features, and his attraction to atavism remain almost innocent. As he enters into the truly perverted world of Nazi leaders and doctors, Abel finds a dark mirror-world of his own obsessions.
A positive theme running counter to the theme of death and degradation in war is the unusual concept of phoria, or carrying. This theme shares in Tournier’s well-known interest in proposing viable models of nongenital sexuality. In this view, the full range of bodily pleasure one may experience, practically from birth, is hampered by the societal imperative to procreation within marriage, which leaves genitally organized sex the only acceptable form of sexual pleasure. Here again, paradox is at work. Abel is viewed as a criminal by society because of his interest in children and child-carrying, but the course of the novel shows that society’s own global perversions, war and the lust for power, are far more destructive to children.
One of Tournier’s unique contributions is his framing of the narrative so that the protagonist is an active interpreter of symbols and events in the story. In this way, the reader is led through the strange and disturbing events of the story with an almost childlike innocence. Many things that normally appear disturbing thus seem benign, and the accepted views become disturbing. Tournier deliberately challenges the reader’s preconceptions and urges him or her to think first before judging.