Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
Alexandre Chenevert, the cashier, wakes up at night worrying about world affairs. Longshoremen are on strike, and food rots on the docks while poverty-stricken children suffer from malnutrition. It is 1947, Germany has surrendered, the war is over, yet fighting still continues in Greece. Chenevert visualizes Jewish refugees, refused admission by the British mandate government, drowning off the coast of Palestine, and decides he hates England. His stomach hurts, but medicines in his bathroom cabinet offer no relief. He falls asleep shortly before the alarm rings and awakes befuddled and unrefreshed.
At the bank in his glass teller’s cage, Chenevert tries being impassive and working in a mechanical manner but becomes irritable and scolds customers who fail to fill out deposit or withdrawal slips properly. He quarrels with a coworker who does not share his worries about world affairs. When closing his accounts for the day, he discovers a one-hundred-dollar error, which he must repay in small installments.
Chenevert consults a doctor, but tests fail to show objective causes for stomach pains. The doctor thinks he worries unnecessarily and suggests he take a vacation. Chenevert decides to rent a lakeside cabin and recruit his strength in the countryside while his wife visits their daughter.
Roy inserts a pastoral episode as the middle third of the novel, occupying seven of the book’s twenty-two chapters. Chenevert sleeps well in his cabin and enjoys the beauty of the landscape. The farmer tells him that his family is self-sufficient in food, raising crops, getting fish from the lake, and meat from moose he hunts in the fall. Chenevert views the farm as paradise but cannot find adequate words when he tries to write down his ideas. Growing bored with the country, he returns early, enduring a nightmarish bus ride that gets snarled in heavy traffic as he approaches Montreal.
The concluding four chapters chronicle Chenevert’s decline and death. Although he claims to feel better after his vacation, he grows thinner and uses many medications for stomach pain. He frets over news of the Nuremberg trials and has to be dissuaded from fasting to protest Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
Chenevert believes that he has cancer but avoids seeing a doctor, hoping medical advances will soon produce a cure. When hospitalized, he is diagnosed with prostate cancer, not the stomach cancer he feared. By then it is too late for surgery. He comes down with pneumonia and a kidney infection. Chenevert and his wife realize they love each other. When employees and clients of the bank come to visit, he discovers that he has many friends. Morphine soon ceases to work, and Chenevert and the priest who hears his confession pray for his death.
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