Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 432 words.)