The Adulterous Woman

by Albert Camus

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Last Updated on October 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739


The third-person-limited story focuses on Janine, a woman who feels trapped in a marriage devoid of passion. The author expertly leads readers astray by the title and builds details, especially in the beginning of the story, which seem to point to a physically adulterous affair. However, this isn't Janine's source of conflict. Instead, she is internally conflicted by the reality of living with her husband, whom she "accepted" with almost a sense of resignation (over the thought of being alone and living independently in her early years).

She describes her husband in ways devoid of physical attraction, and it seems that she has sacrificed little pieces of herself to him and his goals for the last two decades. They once enjoyed traveling to the beach together, with its beauty and vast openness, but that has been sacrificed to his desires as well:

Summer, the beaches, excursions, the mere sight of the sky were things of the past. Nothing seemed to interest Marcel but business. She felt she had discovered his true passion to be money.

As she follows her husband along on this business excursion, the descriptions seem to reflect the void within her soul where those things she has sacrificed to her husband once were:

A cold, harsh light came from the deep holes that opened up in the thickness of the clouds. They had now left the square. They were walking in narrow streets along earthen walls over which hung rotted December roses or, from time to time, a pomegranate, dried and wormy.

Permeating this journey are images of a barren, cold, and decayed landscape. In bed beside him that night, Janine reflects on all their marriage is not:

No child! Wasn't that what she lacked? She didn't know. She simply followed Marcel, pleased to know that someone needed her. The only joy he gave her was the knowledge that she was necessary. Probably he didn't love her. Love, even when filled with hate, doesn't have that sullen face. But what is his face like? They made love in the dark by feel, without seeing each other.

Janine's marriage doesn't have a foundation of love or passion, and there is no child who binds them together. Instead, it seems that they simply need each other in order to avoid being alone.

Janine escapes from the room and goes to the desert, where she breathes in possibility. As she looks at the landscape, she succumbs to the reality of the choices she's made:

Then, with unbearable gentleness, the water of night began to fill Janine, drowned the cold, rose gradually from the hidden core of her being and overflowed in wave after wave, rising up even to her mouth full of moans.

Janine returns to her husband, telling him that "It is nothing," resigned now to the life she has chosen.


When they first met, Marcel was a law student who always wanted to be with Janine, showering her with attention. After two decades, he has become a businessman who shows little attention and no physical affection to his wife. He has become physically unattractive to her, and he "often mak[es] her aware that she existed for him."

In several places in the story, Janine is seen falling into a subservient role to her husband; he often calls to her in ways that seem to reflect his assumed position of power:

"Janine!" She gave a start at her husband's call.

At the beginning of their marriage, he had allowed Janine to explore her own passions and interests, but he has since deemed these explorations unnecessary (mostly because he doesn't enjoy them). Marcel is passionate about business and money exclusively. He seems either oblivious or intentionally uncaring regarding his wife's happiness.

He forces his wife into an assumed position of submission, as evidenced when they climb the terrace to take in the stunning views of the desert:

"We are catching our death of cold," Marcel said. "You're a fool. Let's go back." But he took her hand awkwardly. Docile now, she turned away from the parapet and followed him.

Later, when Janine returns from her excursion—to which Marcel is oblivious—"he looked at her without understanding." This is the key flaw in their relationship. Marcel does not understand his wife, does not consider her hopes and dreams in the life they have built together. His lack of perception and consideration has brought their existence together to "nothing."

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