Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Claude Vannec

Claude Vannec (klohd vah-NEHK), an ambitious young archaeologist. He sets out to explore the Royal Way in the jungles of Cambodia and to profit professionally and financially from his discoveries. Intense, impatient, and in revolt against the banality and conformity of bourgeois existence, Claude is also intent on affirming his own manhood on the journey. Obsessed with nonconformist, virile men, whom he wishes to emulate, Claude meditates on his father and grandfather and is drawn to Perken, whom he meets in a Djibouti brothel. It is Perken who shapes Claude’s ideas about women, sensuality, and, finally, the meaning of death. Under Perken’s influence, Claude comes to consider the journey less an archaeological mission than a voyage of self-discovery.


Perken (pehr-KAH[N]), an experienced, graying, Danish-German adventurer who accompanies Claude on his archaeological treasure hunt along the Royal Way. It is Perken who insists on continuing the journey into the jungle to seek out the Dutch adventurer’s former comrade, Grabot. Perken is an extraordinarily complex individual, combining energy, endurance, and a will of steel with an acute and flexible intelligence capable of understanding individuals and cultures very alien to him. This unique combination of qualities makes Perken a compelling and powerful figure. In the past, it had...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Claude presents an autobiographical dimension. André Malraux had led his own expedition into the Cambodian jungle in 1923 and made his way to the ruins of the Banteay-Srei temple, the removal of whose sculptures caused him to be arrested and put on trial by the colonial administration. Like Claude, Malraux had a grandfather whom he admired, and for some of the same reasons. Claude’s characterization is nevertheless enriched beyond this autobiographical element. He, like Perken, is typical of the intellectual characters created by Malraux whose desire for adventure and revolt against convention are to be appreciated best on the metaphysical level. Their goal is to control their destiny, to pit successfully their will and determination against the order of the world. In contrast to Perken, however, Claude is the young, inexperienced beginner. As such, his role in the novel is often to stand as an admiring witness to Perken’s actions.

That Claude’s commitment to his friendship for Perken is sincere becomes evident when he agrees to journey with the fatally wounded man to Laos, although doing so means abandoning his precious sculptures. Yet Claude is destined to discover, at the end of his adventure, the tragic limits of fraternity. Once the hopelessness of Perken’s condition is confirmed, the latter seems to read in Claude’s look, despite their profound friendship, only the certainty of his own death. The conclusion of the novel only emphasizes...

(The entire section is 565 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Blend, Charles. André Malraux: Tragic Humanist, 1963.

Fallaize, Elizabeth. Malraux: La Voie royale, 1982.

Frohock, Wilbur M. André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination, 1952.

Greenlee, James W. Malraux’s Heroes and History, 1975.

Kline, Thomas Jefferson. André Malraux and the Metamorphosis of Death, 1973.