Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The main theme is the triumph of love and innocence in an elegantly corrupt world. Despite her careful upbringing in demimonde decadence, Gigi prefers the integrity of possibly penurious but bourgeois virtue to a richly compensated promiscuity, only to gain love, money, and respectability. Incredible? Yes. Beguiling? Also, yes.

The double surprise of both the man and the woman finding themselves in love and willing to marry is beautifully fashioned as the compact climax and resolution of a tautly controlled and tightly written short novel. Colette concentrates on quickly establishing her world’s turn-of-the-century manners and morals. Dialogue dominates; descriptions are employed only to promote the plot; and the tone is mordantly witty and biting for the sisters, exuberantly bubbly for Gigi.

Another, underlying theme also deserves notice, that of advice, which pervades many of Colette’s works. Advice becomes the agenda of Gigi, with both grandmother and great-aunt showering the girl with sententious, often sound, directions as they supervise her maturation. Madame Alvarez, faced with their apparent failure as guardians, cannot resist the sally, “You’ll never be able to say you didn’t have good advice, and the very best at that.” Her older sister sagely stops her: “Don’t meddle any more. Can’t you see she is way beyond us?” The child’s instincts have proved wiser than her protectors’ knowledge. Gigi is a parable on the nature of love, whose wisdom cannot be taught.

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Since the eighteenth century, fictional works, chiefly the novel, had dealt with the matter of younger women and girls having affairs with older men — sometimes with pleasant outcomes, as in Gigi, sometimes with unfortunate conclusions. Part of the typical story, as in Choderlos Laclos' Dangerous Acquaintances (1924; Les Liaisons dangereux, 1782), concerns seduction. In this earlier novel, a remarkable example of the epistolary form, the relationship between the older man and the innocent girl is a study of the irregular and sometimes sordid friendships of the protagonist with women.

In England, this theme about the abuse of power had occupied the pens of leading novelists, most notably Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. As a social concern, the subject is simply a matter of whether the girl will accede to the older man's proposition of a liaison or will hold out for marriage, thus risking the rejection entirely by her "lover."

The happy tone and optimistic ending of Gigi were surely a reflection of Colette's reaction to the war. She had been turning out what amounted to propaganda pieces, urging French women to stand fast against the invaders and to do their bit for the nation. As a kind of spur to the feeling of national pride and as an escapist novella (the work is wisely set back near the turn of the century, in a more tranquil and remote era), Gigi simply tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl of...

(The entire section is 441 words.)