Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Lena” is one of four connected stories, all initially published in 1983, that concern three characters, Edouard B., his first wife, Magdalena, and his second wife, Juliette. In the first of these stories, “A Recollection,” Edouard marries Magdalena to save her from death at the hands of the Nazi invaders of France; in the second, “The Colonel’s Child,” Edouard meets Juliette in a London hospital, where she is his nurse, and becomes engaged to her; in the third, “Rue de Lille,” Juliette dies, her dreams of children unfulfilled. Throughout the series, Magdalena has been shown as a totally self-centered woman, and throughout most of the final story, “Lena,” which like its predecessors is narrated in the first person by Edouard B., she is shown as even more selfish and more demanding in old age than she was in her youth. However, at the end of “Lena,” Edouard sees that she does have one redeeming quality.

Like the three stories that preceded it, “Lena” deals with love, honor, and commitment. However, the real theme of this final narrative is how differently people view these values and how their various perspectives affect their lives.

To Edouard, “honor” means what it meant in the age of chivalry. A knight was supposed to rescue a lady in distress. It followed, then, that when a young Jewish actress was in danger, Edouard would save her, even if he had to swear vows he did not mean to keep. He did not love Magdalena, nor did he consider their arrangement a marriage. However, he felt he had a continuing commitment to her. The love of his life was Juliette, and though he does not admit to second thoughts about what he did for...

(The entire section is 690 words.)