Characters Discussed

The narrator

The narrator, a shadowy figure who often seems to be following the other characters, though he never reveals more than that about himself.

Étienne Marcel

Étienne Marcel (ay-TYEHN), a Parisian bank employee. Étienne is at first a one-dimensional character, but after being observed by Pierre Le Grand, he acquires three dimensions and begins to question things. He is a typical Parisian who works in the center of the city and returns every day by train to his house in the suburbs. He is married, has a son, and eats a disgusting meal every day in a cafeteria. This routine is broken after Pierre sees him nearly run over in front of a train station. Étienne then stops at a suburb, Blagny, where, in a café, he meets the other characters and becomes embroiled in the question of the treasure behind Old Taupe’s door. Étienne becomes a near-philosopher as he awakens to questions about the world (such as the reason for two rubber ducks swimming in a shop window), especially with the help of Pierre. At the novel’s end, he is drafted into the army when the French and Etruscans declare war on each other, leaving his wife to disappear and his son in the hands of the evil Bébé Toutout.

Pierre Le Grand

Pierre Le Grand, an observer and thinker. He is an enigmatic character who, upon being asked if he is a novelist, declares that he is a character. He is the only character conscious of Étienne’s transformations and may appear under other names in the novel, such as Pierre Troc. He is something of a philosophical midwife to Étienne in helping him to learn to think. He also is involved in the comic misunderstanding when people begin to...

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The Characters

Etienne is the most frequently mentioned character in The Bark Tree. His near brush with death helps him turn from puppet into person; he provides valuable commentary on the predicaments of the other characters; and he survives until the end of the book, when most of the others have vanished. Like the others, he is a common sort of person who does not cause events but to whom things happen. He attempts to make sense out of the meaningless events that form his life yet never manages to do so. Friends such as the innkeeper, Saturnin, and Mme Cloche simply confuse him further with their eccentric explanations of circumstances. As one of society’s “little people,” he finds himself at the mercy of others, especially the King of France, who involves the French in the absurd war. One of the sole survivors of the war, Etienne has no idea why he was spared, nor does he understand why the war ended: It has happened, he has survived, and now he will leave for home.

Pierre is another important character, but he is far more aware of the discontinuity of life around him. Instead of dwelling upon such inconsequential items as potato peelers and ducks (the stuff of Etienne’s musings), Pierre thinks about the nature of reality and decides that it is irrational. In fact, Pierre is the one who notices that the little banker, Etienne, undergoes a transformation from nonentity to person after the near accident which left another person dead. Pierre’s artistic power of observation allows Etienne to become a...

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Guicharnaud, Jacques. Raymond Queneau, 1965.

Mercier, Vivian. The New Novel from Queneau to Pinget, 1971.

Shorley, Christopher. Queneau’s Fiction, 1985.

Thiher, Allen. Raymond Queneau, 1985.