A Change of Heart

by Michel Butor

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 218

A Change of Heart illustrates powerfully the close link between Leon’s desperate search for meaning and his repeated efforts to interpret the world as he perceives it. During the first few hours of his ride to Rome, Leon imagines plausible histories for the others in his compartment. He convinces himself that two fellow travelers, a priest and a man whom he decides is a law professor, have found personal satisfaction in communicating abstract concepts of truth and justice to their listeners.

Leon, on the other hand, regrets that no ethical or spiritual code guides his existence. He feels alienated from society, and he has almost no self-confidence. When he sees an aged and bearded gentleman enter his third-class compartment, Leon associates this passenger with the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, who, in Leon’s opinion, has come to judge or condemn him for his sinful life. His extremely low self-esteem adversely affects both his perception of reality and his relationships with his family and mistress.

Surprisingly, this novel ends in a moderately optimistic manner. Leon finally accepts responsibility for his own actions when he decides to change his mind about separating from Henriette to live with Cecile. He comes to realize and accept the fact that people must find their own meaning in reality as they perceive it.

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