Student Question

How is tropism used in Nathalie Sarraute’s novel Childhood?

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Tropism is used in Nathalie Sarraute’s memoir Childhood to spotlight the difficulty of supplying a complete account for how the stimuli in her external environments impacted her when she was young.

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To discuss how tropism is used in Nathalie Sarraute’s memoir Childhood, it’d probably be best to get a handle on what tropism means. The word has a biological background. It’s a term that evokes the countless nuanced—and perhaps, undetectable—actions and reactions that living organisms have to the myriad stimuli in their external environments. In her work, Sarraute takes the term and applies it to people. She details and portrays the way in which humans (the living organisms) are impacted by the stimuli in their surroundings.

Of course, as with biology’s tropism, Sarraute’s tropism accounts for the possibility that some movements are too microscopic to be properly accounted for. While reading Sarraute’s creative memoir, one might notice the presence of ellipses and the big gaps of white space. Thus, Sarraute uses punctuation and form to mark tropism in Childhood. With grammar and layout, she shows that, sometimes, the stimulus can be too slight, fleeting, or overwhelming to be legible.

Even when Sarraute attempts to record certain memories, she articulates her failure to fully document the stimuli. For instance, when she’s in the hotel dining room at the beginning, she notes the “guffaws” and the “amused glances.” However, she admits that her grasp on the exact meaning of the guffaws and glances is far from firm. She “can’t quite hear the guffaws” and the glances are a “secret.” What she’s doing is venturing a “guess”—a hypothesis, some might say—as to how the stimuli in the hotel dining room influenced her living organism at the time.

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