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.
Last Updated on February 23, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511
Published in 1832, Indiana has several themes which are still relevant today. Amantine Aurore Dupin, using the pseudonym George Sands, crafts a story about a French upper-class woman trapped by society in her loveless marriage. Sands uses the story of Indiana Delmare to present an argument for women's rights. Through the tale of Indiana's struggle to find love and happiness, Sands discusses the desires and wants of 19th Century women and offers a social critique on the inequality between the sexes. Both of these themes support her larger protest of the French marriage laws of the time.
It is clear that there is no love between Indiana and her husband, Colonel Delmare. Sands describes his actions against her as not just loveless but mean and abusive; however, the strict marriage laws in France during the time of the novel prevent her from leaving him. If she were to try to leave them, she would have no claims to any children, property, or money, and didn't even have the legal right to gain a divorce. Therefore many women, just like our main character, were forced to stay in marriages they did not want to be in preventing them from finding love and living happy, fulfilled lives. Sands argues against this restrictive and oppressive societal expectation.
Women in the 19th century were limited to their social classes. Fluidity between the classes was almost unheard of and while men could have mistresses, the social stigma was too much for most women. In the novel, Indiana reaches a point where she no longer cares what society thinks about her; she loves Raymon and will accept just being his mistress if it means that she has a chance to be happy. Unfortunately for her, Raymon does not share the same love of her. He too wants social mobility and leaves her for a more advantageous marriage.
Though they are clearly not nice men, and treat our novel's heroine badly, French society of the time reward men such as Colonel Delmare and Raymon de Ramière as good men. They have status, wealth, and prestige despite the damage they leave behind. The colonel is mean and abusive towards his wife; he tries to isolate her and bring her down. Raymon leads women on. Indiana's maid, Noun, commits suicide after an affair with Raymon. She falls in love with him and believes they will be married after she discovers that she is pregnant, but he does not return her affections. Instead, he moves on to Indiana leaving Noun disgraced and on her own. Unable to handle the rejection, she drowns herself.
It is only when Indiana is free from the society that she is able to find happiness. Alone her cousin, Sir Ralph, comes to help her. She realizes that he has been her love all along, and the two are free to live without the watchful eyes of society judging them. The reader is left to decide if society's rules are too confining and if it's better for both men and women to live a life without them.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1009
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 her, knowing that she is willing to become his mistress.
The novel also explores the often limited options presented to women in Sand’s time. This is chiefly portrayed in Indiana’s marriage to Delmare. Indiana has been pressed into a marriage she did not want with a man she does not love. Although Delmare mistreats her, she is not able to leave him. Indiana is subject to her husband to the extent that her only options for defiance are to withdraw from him or to silently and coldly obey him. It is only with Ralph that Indiana finds an alternative to Raymon’s fickleness and unfairness and Delmare’s domineering ways.
The Nature of Romantic Love
The varying nature of romantic love and the consequences of love’s absence are recurrent ideas in Indiana. These ideas are chiefly explored through Indiana’s relationships with Delmare, Raymon, and Ralph. Interestingly, Sand portrays the retired Colonel Delmare sympathetically and with nuance: Delmare does love his young wife and wishes the best for her, although he often treats her poorly because of a lack of understanding of women. Sand seems to attribute this to Delmare’s military background rather than to any element of genuine cruelty in him. Meanwhile, Indiana is unable to respond to Delmare’s overtures of love because she is so conscious of the lack of love she has had in her life so far. Delmare is not the man she would have chosen, and therefore she dismisses him and shrinks in his company, longing for a romantic love of the sort she has read about in books.
Both Ralph and Raymon approach Indiana amorously but from opposing standpoints. Indiana feels passion for Raymon, which Raymon reciprocates. However, Raymon is incapable of feeling sufficient passion to override his social obligations; he knows that Indiana, a married woman, can never belong to him in a socially acceptable sense, which is enough to kill his love for her. Ralph, meanwhile, loves Indiana determinedly, quietly, placidly, and deeply for many years, showing this love through acts of service and devotion. Because this love is long-lasting and familiar to Indiana—rather than showy or flamboyant like Raymon’s love—Indiana does not recognize it until it is almost too late.
Finally, the novel suggests that the absence of love felt by both Indiana and Ralph throughout their lives ultimately brings them together. Both characters were raised in environments in which they did not receive affection, and both characters have carried the psychological legacy of this absence of love. In the end, Indiana and Ralph realize that they can console and heal one another, given the similarities in their experiences.