The main themes in Indiana are the significance of society, the plight of women, and the nature of romantic love.
- The significance of society: The characters in Indiana have very different relationships to society; whereas Raymon needs society's approval, Ralph and Indiana eventually shun it.
- The plight of women: Indiana's narrative shows some of the limitations faced by women in her time, especially in the form of marriage and social double standards.
- The nature of romantic love: Colonel Delmare, Raymon, and Ralph embody different forms of romantic love in their respective relationships with Indiana.
The Significance of Society
The characters in Indiana move frequently between different social milieux, sometimes being embroiled in the high society of Paris, sometimes maintaining small households in the countryside, and sometimes living on the extremely remote Bourbon Island. Interestingly, Sand plays in this novel with the idea of society as meaning different things to different people, not necessarily just because of their gender.
For Raymon, the thought of being exiled from society is abhorrent and unconscionable. Raymon thrives in social circles; he needs to be liked and admired in order to feel that he is truly a part of the world. An extrovert, Raymon has intense feelings which do not necessarily last for very long. He privileges being part of society over being able to be with the woman he loves, Indiana.
At the same time, Delmare, a rather naive man, is sure that his frail wife, Indiana, will benefit from being a part of a lively social circle, and so he takes her to Paris. For a time, Indiana does enjoy participating in a young and vibrant social set. However, she quickly comes to realize that the society which so celebrates Raymon, whatever his behavior, will think much less kindly of her after gossip and rumors begin to circulate.
For Noun, who exists outside of this upper-class society, the losses she faces in her unfortunate dealings with Raymon are less social than they are personal. By contrast, for Indiana to decide that she is willing to become Raymon’s mistress is a far greater social sacrifice and is an early indication that Indiana little values the constraints society places upon her.
Meanwhile, Ralph, a member of the English aristocracy, is a man for whom society should, in theory, be easily navigable. However, Ralph is not what he appears: the painting of him in his hunting clothes does not accurately depict how he has been treated in his life or what makes him happy. At the end of the book, Ralph, along with Indiana, rejects the idea that he owes anything to a society which has always made him unhappy. He would rather live alone with his loved one, outside of the bounds of polite society, than be forced to serve its strictures.
The Plight of Women
Indiana foregrounds the plight of women in French society in the early decades of the nineteenth century. While men such as Raymon can take advantage of women of all classes without fear of reprisal, for Indiana to become Raymon’s mistress would represent the ultimate act of dishonor. She would lose her reputation, whereas Raymon would face few repercussions. This cruel double standard that so clearly disadvantages women lies at the heart of the narrative.
It is notable that Raymon pursues both Noun and Indiana passionately, but at the same time, he loses respect for them when they capitulate to his demands. For him, the goal is to pursue beautiful women and seek his own gratification, an agenda that does not diminish him in the eyes of society. But the moment a woman reciprocates his desires, she becomes unworthy of him and faces dishonor. He is better able to cope with this in the case of Noun, who is already considered unworthy of him due to their class differences. In the case of Indiana, he becomes completely unable to conceptualize how he now feels about...
(The entire section contains 1020 words.)
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