Act 1 of Break of Noon begins on the deck of a large steamer somewhere in the Indian Ocean, bound for China. It is noon, and the atmosphere is one of blinding white light. Among the passengers is Yse, a beautiful but unfulfilled woman who is accompanied by her children and her husband of ten years, de Ciz. Also traveling on the ship are Amalric, an economic adventurer, and Mesa, a mysterious, religious, egotistical man. Yse reveals that she feels bound by her children and that she has never felt at home; her home, she states, is a chaise longue “and eight parcels on the baggage list.” She reminisces with Amalric about an earlier affair between the two of them, recalling that she rejected him because he was too sure of himself and did not need her. She admits that she is interested in Mesa but tells of his previous rejection of her interest.
When Yse and Mesa converse, Mesa admits that he is attracted to her, but it is meaningless since “love is a comedy and I have no sense of humor.” Still, the two share a sense that their meeting was fated. Mesa alludes to his trip to France as preparation to leave the world of men and come face to face with “Him.” He knows that he can never have a fulfilled relationship with a woman, because a woman asks a man to give himself to her entirely and he knows that he cannot give his soul to another. He is tormented by this sense of division and seeks wholeness and integrity. He reveals his suffering from having lived in utter solitude, finding that the only thing that truly belongs to him is his pain. The two vow not to love each other, and Yse laments the happiness of a woman who finds a man to whom she can give herself.
Rejecting this as sentimental talk, Amalric discusses all that surrounds them in terms of its potential for profit. Act 1 ends at sunset, as they each realize that they have passed some meaningful point in life and may never return. They are all aware of “the impossibility of stopping anywhere.”
Act 2 is set in a European cemetery overlooking Hong Kong. The afternoon is dreary and dark, and the sky is threatening. Mesa is in the cemetery waiting for Yse. He curses European views of death and life and reveals that he now feels tainted and evil, but at least he is suffering. Mesa exits, and Yse enters with de Ciz. He is leaving for a month, and she begs him not to go. She is in a state of dread, knowing that she is tempted to do something that will utterly destroy her. She begs him, “Do not walk out in the middle of my life.” He replies that he must go, for he lives for initiative, risk, and a...
(The entire section is 1063 words.)