“The Crushed Nettle” recounts a confrontation between a factory worker, Lucien, who is having his lunch, and a stranger who wears a light-colored suit and smokes English cigarettes. The story centers on two important symbols: the nettles and a hole. This story contains not only a symbol system typical of Duras’s work but also an important treatment of silence and the inherent tensions of conversation.
In the beginning of the story, the nettles are described as growing in the spaces between the paving stones and “against the fences around the wooden houses: an invasion.” The nettles claimed the spaces between the paving stones that had been brought there in years past, the city government apparently having abandoned the idea of paving the road. The nettles are also providing a feeding spot for the flies in the heavy and warm summer air. This backdrop frames Lucien, the stranger, the ten-year-old boy, and his baby brother, around noon, near a dump.
The road that is not completely paved leads to a hole “overgrown with a tangle of old iron and nettles.” The juxtaposition of nature and civilization is brought to the reader’s attention with the explanation, “The city ends where the weeds and old iron begin. The war has left it behind.”
Duras suggests that the stranger in the light-colored suit is like the city that has been left behind. The stranger is separate from the world of pain—of nettles—that is familiar to...
(The entire section is 458 words.)