Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Throughout his literary career, Gide was especially concerned with the nature, consequences, and limits of potential human freedom. His short novels or recits, in particular, explore the limits of human identity and freedom in a frequently cautionary manner, rather like extended parables. The Immoralist, Gide’s first experiment in the genre of the short novel, describes the sensual and psychological awakening of an archaeologist recovering from tuberculosis. Never fully aware of life until his close brush with death, the bookish Michel thereafter pursues vitality with a vengeance, even refusing his wife’s prayers on the grounds that he does not wish to owe his recovery to God or to anyone else. In search of new adventures and sensations, Michel twice conspires with those who are out to steal his own property, then recklessly endangers the health of his wife, Marceline; as Marceline sickens and dies, Michel remains all but unmoved, secure in his proven “superiority.” In many ways, as Gide himself noted, Strait Is the Gate should be seen as a companion piece to The Immoralist, showing willful self-abnegation to be just as dangerous and ill-advised as willful self-indulgence. Regardless of whether sainthood can be attained, a question Gide leaves open, it surely cannot be striven for in the manner that Alissa chooses. Reminiscent, as is Michel, of Honore de Balzac’s notorious monomaniacs, Alissa is blinded by her idee fixe to such a...

(The entire section is 516 words.)