Social Concerns / Themes
Anne Desbaresdes, the young wife of a wealthy director of a large enterprise, is bored in her provincial setting by the sea, when she meets an employee of her husband's factory in a cafe. She represents the upper stratum of society, longing for love, adventure, and escape, whether real or imaginary. She pursues this employee, Chauvin, questioning him about the murder they have both witnessed. Together they relate or imagine the murder, seeking an escape in violence. As they drink wine, their hands and eventually their lips touch: there is also escape in alcohol and love.
Duras plays on the oppressive nature of social gatherings in high society. Anne returns late after one of her meetings with Chauvin at the cafe. The anonymous "on" (one) is the only term used to identify the guests. As the author moves without transition to Chauvin, who is lurking in the garden, it is evident that the dinner is an empty ritual; he alone is real for her at that moment. The chapter ends with a shocking description of Anne's regurgitating "the food that had been forced on her," marking her refusal of the artificial world in which she is forced to live.
One critic points to the importance of the symbolic refusal to conform expressed in the child's inability to perform the sonatina thrust upon him by the music teacher. He notes that Anne secretly rejoices; she takes "secret pleasure in the obstinate refusal of her son to learn, to conform, which she associates with her own stifled desire to escape the conventionality and humdrum of an empty existence as wife of a rich industrialist."