Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

There is no ordered narration to the novel. It moves back and forth within a vague time frame from the reformatory to Fontevrault. The ideals and code of the reformatory set those for the prison.

Genet traces a change from “feminine” to “masculine” homosexual love in a most credible fashion. When ordered to keep his mouth open so that seven of the prison’s “big shots” can take turns spitting into it, the narrator believes that he is being covered “with roses that had been tossed at me.... I was the object of an amorous rite. I wanted them to spit more and thicker slime.”

There is a twisting of piety that allows a vision in which the chains of a condemned murderer become roses of utmost purity and scent. The narrator expresses strong emotions and wants to change every situation with noble terms. Robberies symbolize heroic and religious acts. Burglary becomes a form of sexual excitement. The murderer who commits rape and pays for it with his life is raised to the level of saint and martyr.

The narrator seems to have gone through a profound mystical experience in prison. He learns that his path is one of inner searching. Consequently, when he arrives at the prison, the fountain becomes a symbol that indicates his inner transformation is about to begin. He gives Bulkaen the characteristics that he likes and in so doing, the narrator activates his deepest unconscious. The ship image symbolizes his freedom to escape the...

(The entire section is 487 words.)