Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ma, a widowed, eccentric settler in French Indochina who has struggled for seven years to make a worthless tract of coastal land profitable amid the annual assaults of the Pacific Ocean. Much of her strength, resolve, and sanity was broken when her attempt to build a wall to hold back the sea failed. Following the collapse of the dikes, Ma’s life has been a routine of planting rice in vain and finding some person, object, or institution on which to place the blame for her misfortunes. Ma’s hope lies in her two children. She worships her son, Joseph, and continually entertains the dream that one day she will be able to marry her daughter, Suzanne, to a wealthy planter. That wish comes nearest to being realized in the person of Monsieur Jo, the son of a wealthy planter who wishes to take Suzanne as his mistress.


Joseph, Ma’s idle, angry, twenty-year-old son, whose one desire is to find a way off the plain. There exists a strong bond between Joseph and Suzanne, and they spend much of their day together doing what they can to avoid the oppressiveness of the heat and of their mother’s ranting. Joseph is a hunter whose record with both animals and women is unmatched by the other men of the area. He does not approve of Monsieur Jo’s advances toward Suzanne and does nothing to mask his disdain for the man’s appearance, wealth, and lust.


Suzanne, Ma’s youngest...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

The Sea Wall The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The main characters in this novel suffer, paradoxically, for both their closeness to and alienation from one another. Much of the dialogue appears banal, and frequently irrelevant, but these trivial exchanges invariably contain greater, emotionally significant meanings. The family’s inarticulateness prevents them from engaging in direct confrontations yet permits them to communicate in ways deliberately excluding outsiders. Thus, when Ma and her children first met Monsieur Jo, the family jokingly relates the story of the sea wall. He fatuously pronounces the family “formidably droll,” not realizing that their hysterical laughter masks deep frustration.

Comprehending the innuendo employed by Ma’s family requires an understanding of the characters’ values. Ma, whose plans to build and rebuild the sea walls are inspired by her faith in reason, suffers a profound sense of betrayal at the hands of justice. A schoolteacher before her husband died, Ma retains a sense of class position which is continually at odds with a perverse desire to give up and sink into acute poverty. After her debts have been paid and her source of capital is returned to her, Ma simply sobs, “I don’t have the strength to begin all over again.” Surrendering to the knowledge that her idealism has failed her, she no longer battles the land agents, because she finally understands that her failure is not an anomaly, but an effect of their corruption.

Suzanne and...

(The entire section is 569 words.)

The Sea Wall Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Blake, Patricia, “The Stronger Bulwark,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXIII (March 15, 1953), p. 5.

Cismaru, Alfred, Marguerite Duras, 1971.

Kristeva, Julia. “The Pain of Sorrow in the Modern World: The Works of Marguerite Duras,” in PMLA. CII, no. 2 (1987), pp. 138-152.

Murphy, Carol J. Alienation and Absence in the Novels of Marguerite Duras, 1982.

Pierrot, Jean. Marguerite Duras, 1986.

Willis, Sharon. Marguerite Duras: Writing on the Body, 1987.