Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Flea in Her Ear contrasts the bourgeois world (or monde) of the Chandebise household and the nightmarish otherworld (or demimonde) of Hôtel Minet-Galant. This division underlines the divided nature of the play’s major characters. Below the elegant surfaces of their lives, the idle and shallow people of the belle époque—France at the beginning of the twentieth century—live in a degree of chaos. They constantly deceive and are deceived. The most innocent man, Chandebise, can be humiliated and driven to near insanity. The sexes do not understand each other; wives are shrews and husbands are impotent; sadists find their masochists; one man suffers from a speech impairment that would be pitiful if the audience were not laughing so hard at him. The basic instincts of these people are primarily the desires for self-gratification and self-preservation. Some want sex and revenge, while several want to preserve their honor. All want to avoid being shot.

However, there is little real evil here, and the play ends with the main characters reconciled and happy. Although this could be said of most comedies, here there is little sense that any particular actions or attitudes bring about the happy ending or that the ending represents the triumph of any particular set of values or virtues. In fact, it is not completely certain that farces have themes and meanings. Farcical characters may behave the way they do because they are situated in a farce rather than because their behavior reflects the irrational real world.