Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 170

The novel's themes can be separated by the author's literary intentions as contrasted to those more conventionally expressed through character and plot.

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In regard to the former, Robbe-Grillet is concerned with the power of language. Large amounts of descriptive text, ambiguous settings and events, and lack of interpretive connections between those events are prominent characteristics of the novel. All of this supports a related general theme of the tenuous nature of reality, encouraging the reader to question the relationship of fact and fiction.

Within the novel, the setting remains unidentified beyond the tropical plantation environment where the two families live. Still, the complex, repressive character of colonialism emerges as a significant theme, as the characters benefit from it even as they are confined within that system.

Unreliability or hypocrisy of social conventions is another theme that concerns the couples, as A... and Franck apparently reject social rules through their (possible) affair or even their friendship.

Finally, this relationship fuels the theme implied by the title—jealousy—and its destructive effects.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

Just as it is impossible to talk about the characters of Jealousy in the traditional manner, so is it impossible to treat its themes and meanings in that way. This is true because the book is static; there is movement but no progress. There is a clue, perhaps, as to how the book should be seen, a clue that occurs near the beginning, when the narrator describes his observations as being an exercise. If the reader takes observation and description to be the main purpose of the book, then he or she can make sense of it.

There are several passages in the novel in which the narrator is, as usual, looking through a window. The glass in the window is of poor quality and there are serious imperfections in it. The narrator then plays the same game that everyone has played at one time or another; “he” deliberately distorts what “he” observes. Upon finding an imperfection, the narrator moves so that the imperfection is between “him” and the object that “he” is observing. The result is that the object is totally distorted from what it is in objective reality. The narrator makes things change location and even disappear completely. The object still exists, but the narrator’s perception of it depends not on its objective existence but on how “he” chooses to consider it.

Applying this point of view to the stain left by the centipede, it would seem that the reason that the mark grows or shrinks during the various descriptions is less a sign of rampant jealousy on the part of the narrator than an indication that Robbe-Grillet is doing what all artists do: practicing his craft. Artists, painters in particular, rework the same compositions over and over in the search for total perfection. The centipede, described with the fidelity of an anatomical plate, now joins the famous segment of tomato from The Erasers as a masterpiece of description.

This interpretation, that the subject of the book is the art of observation and writing, can be justified by a close reading of another passage in the book. A... and Franck are reading a novel that is set in Africa. The narrator notes that never do they talk about the quality of the writing, preferring instead to discuss the characters as though they were living people whom they might have known or about whom they might have heard. They go so far as to imagine what might have happened if, only to be faced with the fact that the book exists as it is despite their modifications. The narrator then notes that things are what they are, one cannot change reality. The only reality here is the book itself, exactly as Robbe-Grillet wrote it, and nowhere in Jealousy does Robbe-Grillet say that there is a jealous husband.

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Characters