In order to appreciate André Breton’s “Free Union,” a basic understanding of Surrealism (or surréalisme) is helpful. This artistic movement, which Breton more or less founded, constituted a rebellion against the realism and naturalism dominating literature and the other arts during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In a literal sense, the word means beyond or above realism. Surrealist art, whatever the form—literature, painting, film, sculpture—does not intend to recreate the phenomena of the outward world but focuses instead on the inward state and reports how people respond to the world around them.
A poem such as “Free Union” may seem at first reading a disconnected and unrelated series of illogical images; however, when approached as an exploration of the subconscious and its mental activity, the poem takes on meaning. Granted, readers must suspend their conventional idea of meaning and be willing to accept the fantastic and often incongruous imagery. Such is the stuff of the individual’s subconscious, which “Free Union” explores.
The reader of “Free Union” should also keep in mind the major Surrealistic techniques developed and propagated by Breton. For one thing, he relies on juxtapositions, placing dissimilar ideas and phenomena side by side to form unlikely and often absurd combinations. From the poem’s beginning to its end, any set of images illustrates this practice. Breton also...
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