Nathalie Sarraute Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In 1932, Nathalie Sarraute (sah-ROHT) began to write the short texts that make up Tropismes (1939, 1957; Tropisms, 1963). These short fictions cannot be called short stories because they have neither the plots nor the characters traditionally associated with the genre. The texts provide, rather, glimpses into the inner psychological workings of anonymous beings designated only by pronouns. This book is the basis of all of Sarraute’s later creations; it is interesting to note that she returned to this form (a collection of short fictions) in L’Usage de la parole (1980; The Use of Speech, 1980). While she was developing her novelistic techniques, Sarraute began to write critical essays on the evolution of the novel form. These essays were published in a collection titled L’Ère du soupçon (1956; The Age of Suspicion, 1963). Sarraute turned to dramatic literature in 1963 when she was commissioned by a German network to write radio plays. Her first two plays, Le Silence (1964; Silence, 1981) and Le Mensonge (1966; The Lie, 1981), were originally presented on the radio; they were subsequently staged by Jean-Louis Barrault. Sarraute regularly wrote a play after each novel she published; for her, writing plays seemed to be a form of “relaxation.” She published a collection of five plays in 1978.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The publication of Sarraute’s Tropisms in 1939 went unnoticed by the general public, with only a single critical review, yet the movement that Sarraute was unaware of starting became the “New Novel” movement of the late 1950’s. When Tropisms was republished by Minuit in 1957, it was read in the light of the critical theories expressed in The Age of Suspicion, which was actually written after Tropisms. By this time, Sarraute had already published two novels, and her third, The Planetarium, received a friendly critical reception and became a best seller. In 1964, The Golden Fruits won the Prix International de Littérature, and Sarraute became secure in her reputation as an established writer. Along with Alain Robbe-Grillet, with whom she sometimes disagreed, she was considered a leader and an important theorist of the New Novel movement. Although Sarraute liked to point out her differences with the New Novelists, there are many things on which they agreed. They all saw the traditional concepts of plot and character in a novel as outmoded and in need of renewal. It is certain that without the notoriety of this movement, the genius of Sarraute would have gone undiscovered for many more years.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How does Nathalie Sarraute’s early experience as a writer exemplify the fact that writers sometimes receive the wrong advice about their work?

Explain the basis of Sarraute’s use of the term “tropisms.”

Are the children in Sarraute’s works better described as victims of social norms or people who do not exercise their capacity for independence?

Is Sarraute’s view that “language cloaks the truth rather than revealing it” exceedingly pessimistic?

Determine the symbolic possibilities of some of the material objects in The Planetarium.

What is your interpretation of Jean-Pierre’s silence in the radio play Silence.