Children of the Game Summary
by Jean Cocteau

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Children of the Game Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Much of Children of the Game is drawn from Cocteau’s experiences from 1900 through 1903 as an unhappy student at the “Petit Condorcet,” a college in the rue Amsterdam. Indeed, the opening description of a visit to the Cité des Monthiers, a hidden courtyard of artists within an international diplomatic neighborhood of Paris, is a recollection of many such visits that Cocteau himself made with school friends. Cocteau uses the same autobiographical material in his The Blood of a Poet, which represents a development of ideas raised by Children of the Game, and in the famous film noir version directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The symbolic meanings that will be assigned to the later cinematographic versions of the story are already present in the story of these children, who, Cocteau will say later in his journals, did not recognize their own poetry, who “were not playing horses but actually became horses.”

Written in three weeks in 1929 while Cocteau was being treated for opium addiction, the novel focuses on the theme of the adolescent, a new creation of the years following the end of World War I, whose sense of prestige and freedom in the first half of the decade would decay into disenchantment in the second half. The plot of the novel itself is simple and absolute in its construction, revolving around the promise made between Paul and Elisabeth to adhere to a pact, which excludes the rest of the world and love. They are “angelic,” in the sense of being both innocent and uncompromising. For a few years, they are granted a carefree life in their world of childish, if nightmarish, performances and images before the encroachment of a race of adults perverts and destroys them. The novel opens and closes with snow scenes, which establish the emotional coldness of the life that it depicts. Like the falling snow, which blocks out the world, the children’s game substitutes their nocturnal performances and an absolute code of rules for all the accepted ways of ordering reality.

The novel opens with the school bully throwing a deadly snowball at Paul. This childhood rite of initiation, which is repeated in the autobiographical The Blood of a Poet , forms an ominous frame for the whole novel. Although scarcely present in the novel, Dargelos remains a haunting threat, an avenging angel, from whom the children retreat into their symbolic world of the game. He finally sends poison, a more incontrovertibly lethal symbol than the snowball, into that children’s room, whence the rules of the game originate. Only with Paul’s death, Elisabeth’s suicide, and the poisonous invasion of their sacred,...

(The entire section is 652 words.)