Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Genet’s fiction is both an assault on the sensibilities of ordinary society and a desperate attempt at communication. Literally written in prison on prison-supplied brown scraps of paper, his voice comes from a dark netherworld that most people will never see. He succeeds, as though through a miracle, in transforming the world of prisons and the marginal underworld of pimps, killers, and prostitutes, into a fabric of dream and fantasy. The lowest form of degradation becomes a religious exercise, and the worst forms of violence are exalted in poetic raptures.

Names are a central facet of this dream transformation: Lou Culafroy becomes Divine, Paul Garcia is Darling, and Adrien Baillou is Our Lady of the Flowers. The inversion of masculine and feminine pronouns similarly helps to cast the spell. In Genet’s dream fantasy of Divine, it is often unclear whether Divine’s experience is real, or if she is inventing her own dream. In the prison world of the narrator and the harsh outside world of the characters, these fundamental imaginative acts create their own system of values.

Crime is a value in Our Lady of the Flowers but only under certain circumstances. Accomplished with a sublime indifference, murder can become the ultimate glory. As the narrator says in describing Clement Village’s murder of the prostitute Sonia: “Men endowed with a wild imagination should have, in addition, the great poetic faculty of denying our universe...

(The entire section is 445 words.)