The opening pages of Cheri use sensory imagery with superb skill to illustrate the major theme of the novel: the reluctant but necessary dissolution of the liaison between a young man who will never grow up and a practical woman who learns how to grow old. In Lea’s bedroom, the rose-colored curtains filter a pink light, the room has a rosy glow, the lampshades are pink and white, and even the servant is named Rose. Against this pastel background capers the goatish Cheri, described in the black-and-white colors of his demoniac and damned soul. He loves to play with Lea’s necklace of forty-nine pearls, which he desires for his wedding trousseau. He taunts his mistress, “I dare you to say they don’t look well on me!”
Lea no longer wears the pearls to bed at night, because she fears that Cheri, playing with them in the morning, will notice her aging, wrinkling neck. His conversation is filled with egotistic remarks, both petulant and insolent. Lea smiles at him with loving toleration: To her he is “rebellious only to become submissive, enchained lightly but powerless to free himself.” The necklace will reappear throughout both novels as an emblem of their intimacy—every pearl necklace that Cheri sees will remind him of Lea and their love.
Lea and Cheri live their lives primarily through physical needs and comforts, stressing well-ordered food, wine, linens, jewelry, furnishings, and clothes. When decay eats into Cheri’s...
(The entire section is 471 words.)