Miracle of the Rose

by Jean Genet

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Themes and Meanings

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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 confines of the prison atmosphere. Genet moves into a moral realm different from that of ordinary people. “War was beautiful in the past because in shedding blood it produced glory. It is even more beautiful now because it creates pain, violence, and despair. It breeds sobbing widows, who take comfort or weep in the arms of the conquerors. I love the war that devoured my handsomest friends.”

Miracle of the Rose is a complex narrative which has as its ultimate object the elevation of Harcamone, who is introduced early in the book and then disappears until near the end. He becomes a sacrificial figure. The narrator betrays Harcamone by sleeping with Divers, the man who denounced Harcamone to the police for an earlier crime. Thus the narrator becomes Divers’ accomplice and betrays one whom he really loves. At the same time, however, by despising himself for his betrayal, he frees himself from his own love for Harcamone. In doing so, he increases his love for Divers.

A new emotional attitude evolves. Harcamone is a god (Christ)—free of guilt. The narrator, submerged in guilt feelings, always sacrificing and doing penance, thereby pays for the sin of being born. The most important miracle occurs just before Harcamone’s execution. The four men who slowly descend into his body see what only God should see—the depths of man.Harcamone’s execution symbolizes the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ.

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