illustrated portrait of main character Manon Lescaut sitting in an elegant dress and fanning herself

Manon Lescaut

by Abbé Prévost

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What is a quote from Manon Lescaut that highlights the tension between duty and freedom?

Quick answer:

A quote from Manon Lescaut that focuses on the tension between duty and freedom is the following:

I am determined to be free, and so firmly determined, that if you defeat my project, I will put an end to your existence.

Des Grieux speaks these words to the governor of St. Lazare, a prison to which he has been confined. If the governor doesn't help him escape, Des Grieux will shoot him with a pistol.

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Des Grieux and his lover Manon Lescaut have both ended up in prison as a result of stealing precious jewels and money from Manon's wealthy protector.

Manon has been sent to a women's prison, a place the very name of which fills des Grieux with horror. As for des Grieux, he's been sent to St. Lazare, from which he resolves to escape at the earliest opportunity.

For des Grieux, freedom is the most important thing in life, and yet now, due to his own foolishness, he's been deprived of it. As well as losing his freedom, he's also lost his dignity as an aristocrat and is acutely aware of the shame and humiliation he has brought to his family name.

The longer he stays in St. Lazare, the worse the young chevalier will feel about himself and his situation in life. Thankfully, his prison stay is not as bad as it would've been, due to the kindly attitude of the governor, who takes pity on his latest inmate, treating him with consideration and respect.

However, des Grieux still wants to escape, and when he does, we see a clash between the dictates of duty and freedom. When he finally gets ready to break out of St. Lazare, the chevalier brandishes a pistol at the governor, threatening to kill him if he doesn't aid his escape:

I am determined to be free, and so firmly determined, that if you defeat my project, I will put an end to your existence.

Though lumbered with many character defects, des Grieux is most certainly not a murderer. But so desperate is he to escape the confines of St. Lazare that he's more than prepared to kill the governor if he won't do as he says.

Here we see a conflict between duty and freedom. Des Grieux knows that he has a duty towards his fellow man and respects the governor for his kindness and consideration. At the same time, the pull of freedom is too great, and the chevalier is determined that nothing, not even duty, will get in the way of securing his liberty once more.

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