Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

On the surface, The Ripening Seed is a love story with an old and familiar theme: the movement from innocence to experience. The novel also has a conventional plot line: the classic love triangle, in which the older woman initiates the younger boy, who then returns to the younger girl. Nevertheless, Colette moves beneath these simple trappings, mainly with her use of symbols and her use of ambiguous sexual identities, to give her novel a deeper meaning.

Using Vinca and Madame Dalleray as opposites, Colette has put all that is positive into Vinca, with her nature like simplicity, and all that is negative into Madame Dalleray and her calculated artifice. Vinca is the color of the sky, the sea, and the earth. Even her name is linked with nature: Vinca is the botanical name for the periwinkle, which is the color of the girl’s eyes. She is at home in nature, moving through it freely, and even her sexual initiation takes place in a field of new-mown wheat. On the other hand, Madame Dalleray, although dressed always in white, shuns nature and surrounds herself with artificial light and rich, exotic colors. She seduces Phillipe indoors,substituting for the fresh smell of the sea and hay more potent odors, such as incense and perfume. In describing her seductions, Colette uses symbols of Phillipe falling or drowning, of him being overpowered by Madame Dalleray’s sexual appetite. In contrast, when Vinca seduces Phillipe, they share a mutuality of...

(The entire section is 570 words.)