Social Concerns / Themes
In Les Belles Images, de Beauvoir's social concerns coincide with the themes of the novel. While The Mandarins (1954) portrays the intellectual milieu of postwar France, Les Belles Images describes the affluent bourgeois society of the 1960s. The people in the novel have glamorous positions with high incomes. Their concern is no longer focused on how to create a better and more just world, but on how best to display their wealth, how to present "beautiful images." Lifestyle becomes all important: the house in the country, the parties, the travels. Problems are banal: with whom to have an affair, what presents to give — not too expensive so as not to offend, yet expensive looking. The characters in Les Belles Images pursue trivia for lack of any true values.
De Beauvoir, whose own world was far removed from the social milieu she describes, surprised her readers by placing her novel in such a worldly setting; however, she found it an appropriate medium to deal with the subject of in authenticity. Neither characters nor words are what they appear to be. Human relationships when based on in authenticity are doomed to failure. Once the veneer is scratched off, the "pretty picture" looks tarnished. The wife of the model couple deceives her husband with a lover, the glamorous professional woman is insecure without a lover and proves to be vindictive, the elegant lover turns brutish and violent when faced with an angry aging former mistress, and in the end the venerated father figure, the model of integrity, whose values seemed so sure, compromises his ideals by joining in the society which he does not respect.
Deceit operates on every level. The one notable exception is the protagonist's relationship with her daughters. Laurence wants to shield her children from the realities of life because of her own protective upbringing. Through the struggle of Laurence, de Beauvoir makes the point that to bring up a child does not mean making a "pretty picture" of him. The education of children, an issue related to that of authenticity for the author, constitutes hence an important theme of Les Belles Images.