Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 527
The thematic focus of Break of Noon is the quest to understand the nature of love and, through that understanding, the nature of God. The actions of the two central characters, Yse and Mesa, revolve around this one central theme, with each act providing a different perspective.
In act 1, both Yse and Mesa are caught in a web of self-love. In the purity of the blinding, white light, they are at the “noon” of their lives. Yse yearns to “die in the arms of the one who loves you,” to be protected and cared for. That, for her, is love. Mesa, on the other hand, seeks to be alone; he has attempted to devote his life to God, although that desire was thwarted. A woman asks too much, and he is unwilling and unable to give of his inner self. In spite of their mutual attraction, they recognize the impossibility of their love. In a repeated litany, Mesa disavows his love—“Yse, I will not love you”—but with those same words he affirms his connection to her.
Act 2 reveals Mesa as willing to substitute passion for love. He recognizes that this passion is not the happiness he sought, but he is willing to settle for it. The longing that he has experienced toward God is now channeled toward Yse. She is the present, the human condition, and he submits fully to her. Yse, too, recognizes their love in its strengths and its limitations. She knows that she brings Mesa not happiness but death, but it is worth it “provided that . . . I may feel your soul, for a moment worth all eternity . . .” This act of the couple’s self-destruction occurs in a cemetery, underlining the fact that everything must die before it can be reborn.
In act 3, Mesa discovers that through his experience of the alternate forms of love he is able finally to comprehend God’s love. Only through experiencing passion and pain does he come to a revelation of a higher plane of existence. Both he and Yse have moved beyond jealousy and pride and face each other completely openly. In this condition, they face death without fear.
Much of the criticism of this play focuses on the female character. Some critics see Yse as the Dionysian element that man must experience to transcend the loneliness of earthly existence. These critics note Paul Claudel’s ability to unite erotic and divine elements of love. Others liken Yse to Beatrice, a vision of beauty that unsettles and disturbs man and leads him, through rather tortuous means, to divine love.
Other writers focus on the function of Mesa. He is seen as the representative of that part of another human being that can never be known by another. Yse cannot possess that part of Mesa, and that is the source of both her passion and her pain.
Essentially, the thematic content of Claudel’s play is Christian. Not satisfied with temporal concerns, he expands his consideration to the eternal. He deftly explores the passionate level of human love, but he maintains that the final level of that passion leads to an awareness of an even greater love.