Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

When Gide’s The Immoralist was first published, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche was enjoying great popularity in France, and Gide’s journals indicate that he wrestled intellectually with Nietzsche’s thinking for many years. It is not surprising, therefore, that much of Michel’s thinking duplicates that of Zarathustra, the main character in Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885; Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896).

Zarathustra expresses only contempt for Christianity, morality, conscience, and altruism. He, like his creator, considers these things to be human weaknesses, and he deplores weakness of any kind, claiming that “the will to power” is the highest good. Since Nietzsche’s philosophy is essentially optimistic, one can understand how it came to be popular in France, where idealism and optimism were strong and would remain so until 1914, when the German empire was destroyed and France was devastated. Furthermore, since Nietzsche advocated the cultivation of a race of “supermen,” individuals physically powerful, unscrupulous, and merciless, one can perhaps understand how his writings could be used as a philosophical justification for Nazi doctrines of racial and national superiority.

Addressing the “herd” devoted to a “slave morality,” Zarathustra says that “my will to power walks with the feet of your will to truth!” Gide wrote in one of his journals that he was often...

(The entire section is 421 words.)