How do power dynamics in "The Lover" vary by class, gender, age, and race?

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In Marguerite Duras's The Lover, the teen girl uses her class, gender, age, and race to create a power dynamic in which she controls the man.

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In The Lover, Marguerite Duras tells the story of a romantic relationship between a white French girl in her teens and a Chinese man in his late twenties. The man comes from a wealthy family, while the girl’s family has a hard time making ends meet.

Despite the age gap and wealth disparity, it’s possible to claim that the power dynamics favor the girl. Throughout their affair, the man is portrayed as vulnerable and needy. He confesses, in Barbara Bray’s translation, that he “loves her madly.” The girl, in turn, says nothing. According to the narrator, the man “lacks the power to understand” the girl’s “perverseness.”

When the two have sex, the man continues to be depicted as the person in the relationship with less power. His body isn’t virile but enervated. The narrator describes his body as “thin” and “lacking in strength.” They go on to say that there’s “nothing masculine about him.” The girl, on the other hand, appears strong and somewhat stoic. After she tells the man about her penurious family, the man feels sorry for her. The girl replies, “I’m not to be pitied.”

Soon, the man meets the girl’s family. Her brothers refuse to speak to him “because he’s a Chinese, because he’s not a white man.” The girl, too, adopts this racist attitude when she’s around her family. Thus, despite his age, class, and gender, the wealthy twenty-something man is treated as less than by the girl’s family due to his race.

In the context of just the girl and the man, it seems as if the girl is the one who's manipulating the power dynamics of the relationship. She consciously exploits her age, race, and gender to practice her “perverseness” on this older man.

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