Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550

Unlike The Square (1955), some of the characters in Moderato Cantabile have names: Anne Desbaresdes, Chauvin, and the music teacher Mile Giraud. The recalcitrant child, who takes piano lessons from the severe Mile Giraud, remains only "the child." The absence of a name may signify his somewhat unreal existence. Anne...

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Unlike The Square (1955), some of the characters in Moderato Cantabile have names: Anne Desbaresdes, Chauvin, and the music teacher Mile Giraud. The recalcitrant child, who takes piano lessons from the severe Mile Giraud, remains only "the child." The absence of a name may signify his somewhat unreal existence. Anne says, "Sometimes I think I imagined you," and later expresses the same idea to Chauvin. Once again, the child is a catalyst, this time bringing Anne and Chauvin together. Anne accompanies the child to the dreaded music lessons every Friday, and takes him for a walk along the sea to revisit the cafe where the murder occurred. The child runs in and out of the cafe as Anne and Chauvin discuss the murder. The child is like a mirror image of Anne, incarnating her refusal of the monotonous world in which she is forced to live. It is also noteworthy that it is in the child's room that Anne regurgitates the food forced on her at the party.

Anne and Mile Giraud, who meet every Friday, are in conflict over the child. Anne prefers to walk with him along the sea; Mile Giraud insists that he conform to the rules of music and play the Diabelli sonatina "moderato cantabile." These two musical terms are in conflict; they are never used together in a musical composition. This indicates the tension between two poles: moderato is conformity to the habits of society, and cantabile represents freedom and involvement. Anne is torn by these tensions. Mile Giraud represents only moderato. The dual role played by Anne is most obvious during the dinner scene, where she makes an effort at conformity and bourgeois respectability, while yearning for the passion and violence represented by Chauvin's presence in the garden.

Anne also lives an imaginary existence. She becomes so involved in the murder she witnessed that she identifies herself with the victim, who supposedly was killed because the murderer was too much in love with her. While at the formal dinner, her being is actually back in the cafe with Chauvin or in the garden where she suspects his presence. At the end of the novel, Chauvin calls out at her, "I wish you were dead." She replies, "I already am." Whether this death indicates her refusal of the world of conformity is not obvious, however, since she leaves the cafe and Chauvin.

Chauvin is a mysterious figure, whom we know only through his dialogue with Anne and his actions in the garden during the formal dinner. He seems to be a low-level employee of Anne's husband; his conversation does not reveal a high level of culture, and his description of the murder is relatively simple. For Anne he represents passion and violence, intoxication symbolized by the wine he continues to offer her at each meeting.

All the characters are vague and open to various interpretations. All are revealed mainly by dialogue, especially in the conversations between Anne and Chauvin in the cafe. These conversations are allusive, due to the many glasses of wine consumed. Yet Duras creates characters who are very human, suffering from the universal problems of solitude, lack of communication, and frustrated desires. The despair of Sartre and Eugene Ionesco, however, is not part of Duras's outlook, since a measure of hope still remains.

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