Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

This novel explores what is true in human personality. If tropistic reality represents the ultimate, universal reality of the species, truth—for Sarraute—must be found there. By applying the word tropisms to human beings, Sarraute creates a world in which people’s deep subconscious responses to one another, which cannot be fully articulated, seem to be based on the fear of social ostracism. Thus, in seeking security and order amid conflicting voices, a person is not likely to find that he is seeking the truth: Truth is usually painful, and at the level of tropisms, one seeks to gain acceptance and to avoid emotional pain.

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In assigning words to human reality at this subterranean level, Sarraute makes clear that the conscious use of words is motivated by a need for personal recognition rather than by a need for disinterested truth. Hence, words become the means to self-aggrandizement. Once the fixed reputation of the few is institutionalized, the bureaucracy seeks to perpetuate itself by endowing its words with the authority of rational order and permanence. In response, individuals assert their freedom only by forcing that static language of hierarchy to yield to a newly articulated reality. Only then, in Sarraute’s view, are they at least trying to use words, though not necessarily to wield them over others. Thus, “Fools Say” is wonderfully subversive and antiauthoritarian. Why should one not believe in a saint as one’s savior or in a heavenly apparition so purely absentminded that he was once observed staring at an “egg while his watch was cooking in boiling water”?

Surely, one of the most subversive aspects of this novel is Sarraute’s use of multiple voices in place of a traditional narrator whose single voice delineates reality for the reader. The reader must listen to many voices, many perceptions of reality, and realize that he cannot credit truth to any one voice—for, in assigning words to perceptions, every narrator inevitably alters that which is perceived, as well as that which is communicated to the reader. Implicit in this novel is the hope that the reader will abandon any attempt to construct an edifice of character out of the quicksand of human voices. Is there any human truth which can be secured? To search for a truth—instead of a fixed security with everything in its place—is not only hazardous but also fraught with difficulty. In Sarraute’s world, as the reader listens to the conflicts of the multiple voices, he realizes that he might approach a truth, but that the truth is beyond any human comprehension.

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