Man’s Fate

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557

Notable for its vivid characters as well as for its action scenes, the novel focuses upon the dedication of a handful of Communist revolutionaries with little in common besides their cause. Kyo Gisors, the novel’s central character, is a Eurasian married to a German-born physician; his French father, revered by Kyo’s fellow revolutionaries as an adviser and ideologue, increasingly seeks refuge in opium from the pressures of a political situation that he can no longer understand or explain. Katov, a Russian veteran of the Bolshevik revolution, is perhaps Kyo’s closest friend and ally. Ch’en Ta Erh, a former student of the elder Gisors, is one of the first true terrorists to be convincingly portrayed in fiction; in this troubled young man, thought and action have become fused into a formidable, if not invincible, killing machine. Also closely involved in the plotting is Hemmelrich, a German-born phonograph dealer who arranges the transfer of coded information through specially rigged phonograph discs.

Kyo’s wife, May, is another highly memorable character. Committed first of all to her medical career, May is a complex, often ambivalent figure; Malraux’s portrayal of her relationship with Kyo foreshadows by some forty years the treatment of modern marriage that today’s reader has to come to expect. Closer to caricature is Malraux’s portrayal of the rich industrialist Ferral and his almost-liberated mistress Valerie.

Throughout the action, comic relief is provided by the Baron Clappique, a minor underworld character with a gift for striking poses. Ironically, it is Clappique whose unreliability proves fatal to the revolutionaries once they have decided to depend upon him. The revolution, however, will continue, and the rest is history.


Boak, Denis. “La Condition humaine.” In André Malraux. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1968. A judicious consideration of the novel within the perspective of Malraux’s development as a writer. Emphasizes its metaphysical rather than political aspects. Detailed consideration of imagery and characterization.

Chua, Cheng Lok. “The International Theme in André Malraux’s Asian Novels.” Modern Language Quarterly 39, no. 2 (June, 1978): 169-182. An Asian’s view of Malraux’s Asian novels, especially Man’s Fate. Discusses Malraux’s cross-fertilization of the European values of individualism and will with Asian values of communal identity and harmony, and his use of irony in plot to create tragic protagonists.

Frohock, W. M. André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1952. Classic consideration of Malraux’s fictional canon. The chapter on Man’s Fate analyzes Malraux’s style, the rhythm and pattern of the novel’s action, its characterization, and the thematic and aesthetic effects of the characters’ fates.

Hiddleston, J. A. Malraux: La Condition humaine. London: Edward Arnold, 1973. Useful but somewhat critical of Malraux. Focuses on Malraux’s concern with the individual’s ability to question the world, which leads to his characters’ recurrent dilemma of whether to be or to do. Organized into two sections, the first dealing with characters and themes, the second with thought and form. Quite brief.

Leefmans, Bert M.-P. “Malraux and Tragedy: The Structure of La Condition humaine.” Romanic Review 44, no. 3 (October, 1953): 208-214. Pioneering analysis of the formal structure of Man’s Fate. Shows the seven parts of the novel’s action conforming to the classic rise and fall of tragedy, developing in the equally classic pattern of purpose, passion, and perception.

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Critical Evaluation