Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 362

It would be too easy to read a "moral" into Françoise Sagan's novella, a message regarding the unexpected and tragic things that can result from one's self-interested actions. In the story, Cécile, the seventeen-year-old enjoying a summer holiday in the south of France with her widowed father, launches a plan to break up her father's impending marriage to his longtime business associate and friend, Anne. The scheme works, but it goes too far, with Anne dying (probably by suicide) in a car crash.

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Sagan's theme arguably involves, more than any moral point, the randomness and the inexplicability of the way fathers and daughters, and men and women, interact. The transient nature of love, both familial and romantic, is focused upon as well. When the story begins, Cécile's father, Raymond, is having an affair with a much younger woman, Elsa. When Anne appears at their summer house on the beach, Raymond quickly dumps Elsa, gets together with Anne, and soon proposes to Anne, throwing into disarray his relationship with his daughter. Cécile then encourages her own soon-to-be lover, Cyril, to make a show of interest in Elsa in order to arouse Raymond's jealousy, forcing his return to Elsa so that he will dump Anne.

When the novel was first published in the 1950s, it was considered a sensation—scandalous or at least very "racy"—especially because Sagan was only seventeen herself when she wrote it. It was the openness (by the standards of the time) of its sexuality, and the generally cynical, amoral attitudes of Cécile and of the other characters, that shocked or at least tittilated readers of a more conservative decade. Though today Bonjour, tristesse seems much tamer than on its first release, the general depiction of people acting on the pleasure principle and having few moral constraints is still the dominant impression made by the story. Sagan's theme is to show this as the inevitable, immutable behavior of people, regardless of its amorality. But as the title indicates, one's awareness of these facts of life leads to an understanding that sadness is everywhere to be found, and one may as well say hello to it.

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