Marguerite Duras Marguerite Duras World Literature Analysis

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Marguerite Duras World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Duras’s artistic output includes novels, screenplays, and stage plays. Her third published novel, Un Barrage contre le Pacifique (1950; The Sea Wall, 1952, also A Sea of Troubles, 1953), provides evidence of her habit of using a central scene, variations on which are repeated throughout the work. The Sea Wall tells the story of a widowed mother who buys a piece of land that is regularly flooded by the Pacific Ocean. The image of the deluge dominates the novel and the lives of the widow and her two children.

A short story, “Le Boa” (1954; “The Boa,” 1984), also centers on vividly described scenes, in this instance juxtaposing one of a boa constrictor at the zoo devouring a chicken with another of the body of Mademoiselle Barbet, a seventy-five-year-old woman who manages a boarding school. The unnamed female narrator observes both scenes and provides a perspective for the reader. Both the flooding image of The Sea Wall and the narrative eye of “The Boa” suggest the passive nature of woman, of body, at the mercy of natural forces of flood, menarche, imagination, and desire.

Duras’s works are often studied for their portrayals of women. Her best-known work, The Lover, explores the narrator’s relationship with her mother and with her Chinese lover. The novel often portrays women as passive objects, showing the teenaged narrator carried along with the current of the events of her life, as symbolized by the objects she watches float down the Mekong River. The women in Destroy, She Said and La Pluie d’été (1990; Summer Rain, 1992) operate outside conventional morality and expectations. Alissa in Destroy, She Said introduces two men she is with, separately at different times, as her husband. The mother in Summer Rain tells her children a story of a love affair on a train.

Duras’s fiction often recounts lives on the margins of a culture. Summer Rain, for instance, focuses on a couple who settle in Vitry, France, and then have seven children, rearing them on money provided by the government, entering the life of the town only to drink with others. Isolation in this novel includes not only the family and the townspeople but also the children’s separation from their parents. The children often stay in a shanty on the back of the property rather than in the house. The parents often keep the children out of the house during the day, leaving the older children to care for the younger ones. The patterns of separation lead a reader to see the novel as allegory, suggesting a pattern of colonizers keeping the indigenous population dependent but not nurturing that population. A teacher mediates between family and culture when he notes the incipient genius of Ernesto, the eldest child.

Other patterns in her work suggest the influence of Ernest Hemingway, most notably in her dialogue. Destroy, She Said consists almost entirely of dialogue, and the novel explores the developing relationship among four people at a resort. As is the case in Hemingway’s dialogue, silence and allusive exchanges elucidate the conflicts between characters. As in other works, in Destroy, She Said Duras explores the female as object, in this case Elisabeth Alion, whom two men watch through a window every morning and afternoon.

The visual nature of Duras’s writing lent itself to her becoming a filmmaker and to the frequent adaption of her novels as films or plays. Duras began writing plays in an antiplay tradition, placing bits of her characters’ lives directly before the audience in situations that often contain little plot structure and no clear beginning, middle, or end. Duras’s stage personages, despite their frequent loneliness, boredom, and depression, inevitably find some hope in their lives, some triumph.

One of Duras’s first plays, Les Viaducs de la Seine-et-Oise (pr., pb. 1960; The Viaducts of Seine-et-Oise , 1967), tells a story based on a true incident that was reported in the press. An elderly couple murdered and then dismembered a crippled cousin who had lived...

(The entire section is 3,285 words.)