Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

When André Gide’s The Immoralist was first published in 1902, many of its readers vilified Michel. As Gide stated in his preface to the novel, much of the public’s indignation “overflowed” onto the author, because many readers identified Michel with his creator (a frequent consequence of first-person narration). Gide claimed, furthermore, that he took care not to pass judgment on Michel. That might, if the author’s efforts at neutrality were successful, partly explain why readers could transfer their negative reactions so easily. Within Michel’s narrative, Gide succeeds in remaining unobtrusively neutral, but he did choose to frame his protagonist’s story with Michel’s voice of the unnamed friend who is writing to his brother. As powerfully engaging and believable as Michel is, Gide did not need to use a narrative frame. So why did he do it?

The most obvious reason involves the extent to which moral principles are essential not only to sustaining civilization but also to making civilization possible. The novel is entitled The Immoralist, which both explains and justifies Gide’s use of the frame, as it is not the author himself who calls Michel the immoralist but Michel’s friend. Nevertheless, with both the title and the frame, Gide primes his readers with a preconception about the story’s “hero.” He anticipates his readers’ indignation over Michel’s essential inhumanity, and with the incorporation of the friend’s voice, Gide goes one step...

(The entire section is 615 words.)


(Novels for Students)

The central theme of The Immoralist is the growing self-awareness of a repressed homosexual whose natural...

(The entire section is 708 words.)