How does love play a significant part in Marguerite Duras's The Lover?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Marguerite Duras's The Lover, a coming-of-age story, sexual love is a dominant theme, but the relationship also symbolizes political issues.

Duras's partially autobiographical novel depicts a young 15-year-old French girl's struggles with her family and growing up in Indochina in the 1930s. Being the rebellious sort, she often wears unsuitable clothing and is one day wearing an outfit that makes her look "like a child prostitute" and draws the attention of a rich Chinese man 12 years her senior (p. 24). The two are on a ferry crossing the Mekong River into Saigon. They begin a dating relationship that soon becomes sexual. The relationship is scandalous due to the stigma attached to an interracial marriage. Her parents would forbid her to marry a Chinese man, while his own father would disinherit him if he were to marry a white European woman. For her, the relationship is only an enjoyable, physical pastime, while for him, the relationship is true love. Regardless, by the end of the novel they are separated--she is sent back to France, while he agrees to his father's arranged marriage.

However, while the story is all about the affair of these two lovers, the story really symbolizes political issues. The author uses the French girl and her family to symbolize the issues and consequences surrounding French colonialism, while also, as Frank Northen Magill, editor of Literary Essentials: World Fiction, phrases it, symbolizing the "universal human struggle against loneliness and despair" (eNotes, "Themes and Meanings").

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