The Adulterous Woman

by Albert Camus

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

No, nothing had happened as she had expected.

This quote is summative of Janine's feelings about her last two decades in retrospect. She had thought her marriage would be more fulfilling, in particular. But she has also learned to give up personal fulfillment, even in things of beauty (like trips to the beach) in exchange for supporting her husband's passion for money.

Janine looked at her husband. With wisps of greying hair growing low on a narrow forehead, a broad nose, a flabby mouth, Marcel looked like a pouting faun . . . His heavy torso would slump back on his widespread legs and he would become inert again and absent, with a vacant stare. Nothing about him seemed active but his thick hairless hands, made even shorter by the flannel underwear extending below his cuffs and covering his wrists.

This is not the description of a woman passionately in love with her husband. In fact, she looks at him with moderate disgust, as evidenced in the modifiers "flabby," "heavy," "thick," and "hairless." Since this description appears so early in the story, it also reinforces the idea of an impending physical adultery; Camus expertly misleads the reader with these details.

Yet in school she had won the first prize in gymnastics and hadn't known what it was to be winded. Was that so long ago? Twenty-five years.Twenty-five years were nothing, for it seemed to her only yesterday when she was hesitating between an independent life and marriage, just yesterday when she was thinking anxiously of the time she might be growing old alone. She was not alone and that law-student who always wanted to be with her was now at her side. She had eventually accepted him.

So many details of characterization are packed into these lines. Janine is discovered to be dissatisfied with herself and her choices in many ways. She is no longer the adept, lithe gymnast that she once was. Instead, she is succumbing to the physical realities of middle age, finding that even small exertions leave her out of breath.

It is also clear that she didn't enter into this marriage with great excitement. She "hesitat[ed] between an independent life and marriage." She considered living her own life, free to make her own choices, at least for a while longer, before she "accepted" Marcel. This verb is crucial in understanding the foundation upon which she has built her marriage. She wasn't thrilled with her choice even in the beginning, but entered into the union passively and with resignation. In the end, she has chosen Marcel not over other men but over the idea of being alone.

Janine was feeling overcome with sleep when there suddenly appeared in front of her a little yellow box filled with lozenges. The jackal-soldier was smiling at her. She hesitated, took one, and thanked him. The jackal pocketed the box and simultaneously swallowed his smile. Now he was staring at the road, straight in front of him.

This is another point when Camus expertly crafts the details to lead the reader astray. It seems as though Janine is interested in this soldier romantically; she is drawn to the details of his smile and gaze. However, nothing ever comes of these subtle interactions which at first seem to be building toward more.

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. An...

(This entire section contains 1032 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
odour of dust and coffee, the smoke of a wood fire, the smell of stone and of sheep permeated this quarter.

As Janine walks with her husband, who is out trying to conduct business (the only thing he is passionate about), the details grow colder. Janine follows him silently in a setting which is full of images of death. These details show the increasingly empty void between Janine and her husband. Even roses, often symbolic of love and beauty, are "rotted." Decay physically and emotionally encompasses Janine.

What was there to see here, after all? But she could not take her gaze from the horizon. Over yonder, still farther south, at that point where sky and earth met in a pure lineā€”over yonder it suddenly seemed there was awaiting her something of which, though it had always been lacking, she had never been aware until now.

From a physical height, Janine sweeps her gaze across the vast desert and realizes that life could offer her more. There are possibilities out there, and they call to her. Something awakens in her soul, a longing to experience and feel more.

"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.

Janine's ideas of freedom and of deeper self-realization are interrupted and ended by her husband, who calls her a fool. Janine slips into her submissive role and follows him back to his own dreams and desires.

A final burst of energy hurled her despite herself onto the terrace, against the parapet, which was now pressing her belly.

There are multiple images of Janine pressing or touching her belly, reinforcing the idea that she has always longed for children. This is one more dream that Janine has sacrificed in making the choices of that constitute her life.

He was about to slip between the sheets when, one knee on the bed, he looked at her without understanding. She was weeping copiously, unable to restrain herself. "It's nothing, dear," she said, "its nothing."

Janine returns from slipping out in the night, succumbing to the reality that she will abandon her husband and the choices she has made. In her resignation, she cries and simply (but symbolically) tells her husband that "It's nothing." Janine's dreams have come to nothing. Her marriage has given her nothing, emotionally. Her sense of self-fulfillment has come to nothing. In so many ways, her sense of purpose is nothing, and she sinks into the reality of her cumulative life choices.