Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 386

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet takes place on a banana plantation somewhere in South America. The story opens with a portrait of one of the main characters, A..., whom the reader learns is the very beautiful owner of the plantation. Though it is never confirmed, the reader might assume that the narrator of the story is A...'s husband. The husband is very jealous of A... and is suspicious that she is having an affair with their neighbor, Franck. From the start of the story, Franck and A... clearly have a connection, perhaps a close friendship, but possibly something more. Franck and his wife Christiane supposedly used to visit A...'s plantation together, but by the start of the story, Franck is in the habit of visiting alone.

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One night, while Franck is visiting for dinner, he mentions that he needs to go into town the following week to purchase a new truck and take care of a few other business matters. He invites A... along with him, offering that she might go shopping while he takes care of his errands. She happily accepts his invitation.

The following week, Franck and A... go on their day trip as planned, but they do not return in the evening. They instead arrive back at the plantation the following day, explaining that they had mechanical issues with the car that required them to stay in town while waiting for a repair. The narrator claims that A... and Franck exchange guilty glances as they explain their tardiness, but it is unclear if this is true or just telling of the husband's paranoia. However, there are some other clues that might hint that A... and Franck have not been fully truthful. For instance, A... has returned home with no purchases, even though she supposedly spent a whole day shopping.

Later, another important scene in the novel takes place with all three protagonists: A..., her husband, and Franck. The three of them are at the dinner table when A... sees a centipede and Franck quickly gets up and squishes it. This incident is retold several times, seemingly implying the narrator's obsession with the situation.

Ultimately, Jealousy ends in a very unresolved place with no real conclusion. The relationship between A... and Franck remains as undefined and unknown as the identity of the narrator.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 900

Jealousy, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s third published novel, takes place in a house on an isolated banana plantation somewhere in the Western Hemisphere, perhaps on an island, perhaps on the South American mainland. The book opens with the description of a shadow cast by one of the house pillars and then moves to a description of A... and her activities, then to a railing, then back to A..., then to the general physical surroundings of the plantation. The tone of the novel is now set; a calm, detached, almost scientific description of what the narrator sees and hears. The passages that describe the most important observations of the narrator are repeated at various times throughout the book and in no discernible chronological or spatial order.

At least in part because the title of the book is Jealousy, most critics believe that the narrator is a man and married to A.... According to their reading, he is insanely jealous of A... and suspects her of having an affair with Franck. Nevertheless, one notable critic, Maurice Blanchot, states that the narrator is not a person but only a pure, anonymous presence. Such an interpretation would be more in keeping with Robbe-Grillet’s theories on literature as expressed in his Pour un nouveau roman (1963; For a New Novel, 1965). It must be noted that the original French title is La Jalousie and that a “jalousie” in French—and also in British English—is a venetian blind. There are, in fact, venetian blinds on the windows of the house, and the narrator spends a good part of the time peering through them. Then, too, Robbe-Grillet posed for the photograph that appears on the cover of the Grove Press 1965 combined edition of Jealousy and Dans le labyrinthe (1959; In the Labyrinth, 1960), and that photo shows him looking through a venetian blind.

While Robbe-Grillet’s first book, Les Gommes (1953; The Erasers, 1964), has a plot, and his second Le Voyeur (1955; The Voyeur, 1958) has at least part of a plot, Jealousy has only a series of scenes that may roughly be divided into two groups: connecting scenes and critical scenes. In the first category, there are, for example, passages in which the narrator defines the shape and size of the various parcels of land where the banana trees have been planted and counts and recounts the number of trees that have been cut or replanted. There are also those that describe workmen replacing (or getting ready to replace) a log bridge and servants coming and going. In short, they are descriptions that do not advance what could be considered to be a story.

In the second category, those scenes which may be considered to be critical to the development of a plot, there are two that are repeated several times and are believed to demonstrate that the book is about a jealous husband. The first shows the three people in the book sitting on the veranda after dinner at night. The chairs of A... and Franck are in close proximity and that of the narrator is placed so that observing them and overhearing their conversation is difficult. The second involves Franck’s decision to make a trip to town and A...’s desire to accompany him in order to make some unspecified purchases. Since there is no linear time in the book, the reader does not know just when they decided to make the trip, the trip being recounted at various times both as though it were still in the planning stage and as though it had already happened. The reader does learn, however, that they did not come back the same day, that they spent the night in town, and that A... made a totally insignificant purchase.

For those readers who find a jealous husband in the book, there is one additional critical scene. The three protagonists are at the dinner table when A... sees a centipede, an insect that she mortally fears. Franck gets up from the table and mashes it against the wall, leaving there the outline of part of its body, and then steps on the remains that fall to the floor. Both this incident and a description of the outline on the wall are retold several times in descriptions that range from the very brief to the very detailed. This insistence on the mark left by the death of the centipede is alleged to show increasing jealousy and obsessive behavior on the part of the narrator. At one time, the narrator is seen trying to remove the outline. Even though it is in the shape of a question mark, putting both the significance of the scene and the meaning of the centipede very much in doubt, this mark is now considered to be a symbol both of Franck’s dominant sexual role and a stain on the narrator’s honor.

Two scenes are given only once. In the first, a hand is seen clutching at sheets in a hotel room bed and Franck gets out of the bed. In the other, Franck is driving his car at night and there is an accident. It should be noted that the narrator never leaves the house and therefore could not have witnessed those events, that the reader sees Franck after the trip to town and knows that he did not have such an accident, and that A... and Franck are not positively seen together in the two scenes.

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