How can the values and attitudes of the society of The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis be relevant to 21st entury readers?
The values and attitudes of the society of The Wife of Martin Guerre can certainly be relevant to the 21st century reader, when we consider what life would be like if we did not have any of those values today. After all, most of the values of loyalty, family unity, and commitment are quite misused and somewhat abused by the Guerres in the novel. However, we can certainly appreciate the attitudes and the values of their time, because they are quite active in ours.
We could actually argue that we may have a higher set of values in the modern world than the Guerres had in the 16th century: we do marry for love, we try to see loyalty for what it really should be, and we (normally) make choices based on our best interests and not the collective financial interests of our families.
Additionally, think about the most important value of the story, which is the sense of loyalty. Although the characters misuse it, loyalty remains as the bond that ties the family together. Loyalty is also the destroyer of poor Bertrande, who is forced to accept an intruder as her husband, and then is also expected to have remained loyal to the real husband who left her. However, the fact that she has that sense of loyalty is what makes her character strong and, to a point, quite easy to relate to.
Take now the importance of loyalty to a 21st century setting. In a marriage, for example, loyalty is the "maker or breaker" of a relationship. Our modern mentality would never allow for others to make us second guess ourselves in terms of who is our actual husband, but we still we feel both sorry and in awe of Bertrande's position of having no other choice but to follow the mandates that are expected of her as a woman.
Family values are also misused in the novel, for the family really was looking out for themselves in the marriage of Bertande and Martin. However, in the proper context, family values are extremely important in the education and upbringing of the modern individual. Certainly we can see that, in the novel, the family values of the Renaissance were financially motivated. However, the modern world, we at least try to make the extra effort of trying to do what is best for our children.
The existence of gender roles in the 16th century and in the 21st century is, perhaps, the most debatable point out of the argument. A feudal society such as that of Martin Guerre's had specifically-defined roles for males and females. These roles were not to be changed, nor altered. We know that in the 21st century we have changed the idea of gender roles but, interestingly, even the media continues to portray the woman as the nurturer, as the entertainer, as the caretaker of the home, and as the anchor of the family. Hence, whether they are similar, or different, gender roles still exist even today.
There are many more values and attitudes that we could bring up from The Wife of Martin Guerre, but notice how those discussed are still much relevant in modern society. Hence, we can safely argue that they are just as important and touching then as they are now. The modern reader can certainly make a text to self connection with this novel.