Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, an older French woman. Now a successful writer in France, the narrator reminisces about her childhood and adolescence in Indochina, focusing on an image that appears to be central to her identity, an image of herself dressed in gold lamé high heels, a silk dress with a very low neckline, and a man’s fedora. As she crosses a branch of the Mekong River, she is watched by a Chinese millionaire in his black chauffeur-driven limousine. Although she is only fifteen and he is twelve years older, she becomes his mistress, accepting money and elegant dinners at expensive restaurants for herself and her impoverished family. They accept his generosity but humiliate him, refusing to acknowledge him because he is Chinese. Even the narrator denies the depth of her feelings when she is confronted by her mother. Although marriage is of no interest to her, he awakens her sensibility and desire, her love of lovemaking. After finishing high school, she leaves Saigon for France to continue her education, thus ending the one-and-a-half-year relationship with her Chinese lover.

The narrator’s lover

The narrator’s lover, a wealthy Chinese heir. Attracted to the young girl he sees standing by the rail on the ferry, he offers her a ride to her boarding school. They become lovers, frequenting his apartment in Cholon, where he awakens her sexual desire. Their relationship cannot last because he is Chinese and...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Lover is at least partly autobiographical, representing Marguerite Duras’ personal recollection of and confession about her childhood and her first love affair. The dates and places given in the novel correspond very closely to those facts known about her life, as does the makeup of the girl’s family. Among the few characters whose names are mentioned in the book are the mother and the “younger” brother (in fact two years older than the girl), who have the same names as Duras’ own mother and younger brother. The anonymous first-person narrator is now a writer very much like Duras, has had some of the same experiences in later life (involvement in political activities, struggle with alcoholism), and has written similarly about her early life and her family. Yet because so many of the characters are left nameless and because the names given are so seldom used, there is a suggestion that the novel should not be read simply as a thinly veiled autobiography.

The distance between Duras and her protagonist is reinforced stylistically by the narrator’s frequent references to herself in the third person; the young girl often seems to be merely an observer of her own actions, directed by more powerful forces than her own conscious decisions. The ambivalent relationships presented in the novel similarly resist simple and direct analysis. The young girl’s erotic passion for the Chinese man is genuine but is accompanied by—and perhaps...

(The entire section is 473 words.)