An Apprenticeship: Or, The Book of Delights

by Clarice Lispector
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446

An Apprenticeship may well be Lispector’s most accessible novel, although it deals with some of the same issues as her more complex and difficult works. At the novel’s beginning, Lori, the main character, is preparing to meet her suitor and mentor, the young philosophy teacher Ulysses. Waves of nausea overcome...

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An Apprenticeship may well be Lispector’s most accessible novel, although it deals with some of the same issues as her more complex and difficult works. At the novel’s beginning, Lori, the main character, is preparing to meet her suitor and mentor, the young philosophy teacher Ulysses. Waves of nausea overcome her and she feels she must cancel the appointment. Her nausea stems from feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness when she considers the vastness of being. She knows that her life has no determined shape, and that only she can give it shape, but this knowledge results at first in imprisonment in dread rather than liberation. She does not accept her freedom to shape her own life, and to give and accept love. Her predicament is symbolized by an event in her past when, lost in a foreign city, she did not remember the name of her hotel, and in a panic asked the taxi driver to keep driving, hoping that she would find her way back.

Lori does finally choose to keep the appointment, which is a first step toward freedom. Through a series of meetings with Ulysses, through meditating on what he says, and through prayer toward an undefined, impersonal god for courage to live, Lori draws closer to full participation in life. She learns to accept her body, and to live in it. She learns to take part in social occasions and withstand the gaze of the world, to enjoy the pleasures of natural beauty, and to give of herself. While Ulysses is courting her, he is also going through a parallel experience. Although Ulysses’ apprenticeship seems to be more intellectualized, he, too, is learning to accept his freedom.

The final scene of the novel is the consummation of the affair between Ulysses and Lori. They are now ready for each other, and ready to give up what needs to be sacrificed for full participation in a relationship. “Do you think love is a mutual gift of one’s solitude?” Ulysses asks. Lori will say only: “. . . my search has come to an end.” The novel ends with a colon, as Ulysses is about to speak.

An Apprenticeship is strikingly lyrical, moving along according to a series of epiphanies rather than according to chronological time. The reader goes from one crisis of realization within Lori’s subjective experience to another. The recurrent motifs of water, of the breeze, and of moving vehicles suggest the flowing nature of Lori’s experience and the natural quality of her development. This is a novel that allows the reader to watch Lori become herself as one might watch a fish take shape swimming upward toward the watcher.

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