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Marguerite Duras' The Lover is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of a fifteen-year-old French girl (the narrator) and a love affair she has with an older Chinese man. In the book, Duras names only a few characters, but the names she does choose to use, and the other details she shares, draw many similarities with her own life, leading the reader to believe Duras herself is the narrator.

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The narrator is a French girl living in Saigon with her poverty-stricken family. She attends school and has tenuous relationships with the girls there. The story is told from her perspective as an adult, many decades after the main events take place. During her time in Saigon, the narrator is admired by a wealthy Chinese man who immediately takes a liking to her, offering her a ride to school. Shortly after that, they become lovers. The relationship is doomed, and the narrator returns to France after finishing school.

The lover is twelve years older than the narrator and promised to another woman. While they have difficulty admitting their feelings for one another, the man ultimately reveals that he was in love with the narrator at the time of their affair. The lover spends money on the narrator and her family, but they treat him poorly because he is Chinese and they are white. Once the narrator leaves the country, the lover marries the woman to whom he's always been betrothed.

The mother, a school teacher, is doing her best to feed and clothe her children after the death of her husband. She takes advantage of the lover's generosity and rarely discourages her daughter's relationship.

The older brother has a gambling and opium addiction and steals from everyone he knows. The mother loves her eldest child but occasionally kicks him out to protect her younger son and daughter. He passes away at age 65.

The younger brother, two years older than the narrator, is beloved by his sister and less so by his brother. As an adult, he works as an accountant, but he passes at a young age, 27, due to bronchial pneumonia. This death is a turning point for the narrator, and she tries to kill herself in the aftermath. The narrator blames her mother and older brother for the younger brother's death, and their relationship grows tenuous.

Characters Discussed

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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 she is white. His rich father is adamantly opposed to any future union, and the son, weak and timid, will not oppose him and risk being disinherited. After the...

(The entire section contains 1409 words.)

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