In The Intruder, Maurice Maeterlinck superbly evokes feelings of fearful suspense and anxiety through the simple repetition of phrases, the device of light diminishing into darkness, and invocation of nature’s response to the unseen intruder when the birds, swans, and dogs are suddenly hushed for no apparent reason. Maeterlinck admired Edgar Allen Poe’s ability to create a haunting atmosphere that leads up to tragic consequences. In The Intruder, a similar haunted atmosphere evolves as the family converses banally. While the intruder, death, stalks the premises, the six relatives argue about the weather, sounds they hear, the opening and shutting of doors and windows, and the arrival of the long-awaited nun.
Although the play is set in the twentieth century, it resembles a medieval allegory. None of the characters is given a proper name, and the invisible figure of death is really the star of the show. The intruder hovering about the gardens and the château is sensed only by the blind grandfather who alarms the younger members of his family as he persistently asks who is present or whose footsteps are on the stairs. Like a blind prophet, the grandfather intuitively feels the macabre presence, but he is not understood by his family, who even call him demented. His premonitions are justified at the conclusion of the play when the sister of charity silently, by making the sign of the cross, announces the ill mother’s death. The father’s and uncle’s sister never arrives.
The mother was suffering ever since giving birth to an infant who, since it had not yet made a single sound, resembles a wax effigy. The grandfather fears that it may be deaf and mute because his daughter married her cousin. Maeterlinck thus suggests an underlying theme of incest in this very enclosed family; the newborn baby, the new life remaining after the mother’s death, seems to be already cursed.
Influenced by medieval mysticism, Maeterlinck suggestively portrays the realm of the irrational, uncontrollable, and unspeakable through contrasting light and darkness, sound and silence, outside and inside, female and male, youth and age, health and illness, and ultimately, life and death. He does not want his brief drama to be fully understood but merely to be felt by the reader or spectator, who silently enters the family’s privacy, participates in its anxiety, and understands that nothing and no one can keep death away when it approaches.
It is significant that the grandfather, who can still see bright light, feels that all light has gone out even when the dim lamp still burns. He is probably intuitively sensing death approaching his daughter in the next room. His anguish about this inner darkness is echoed by the others when their lamp extinguishes itself and they are left talking quietly in total darkness. Rays of moonlight at the conclusion of the play suggest that a strange light from outside the family and their home can still penetrate their personal and...
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