Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 390
If I were to analyze Sarrasine by Honore de Balzac, I would focus on three main aspects of the story: 1) the paradoxes or stark opposites that exist in life and love, 2) the notion that nothing is truly as it seems, and 3) a critique of Parisian high society.
First, I would discuss how the paradox that nothing can exist without its antithesis is conveyed from beginning to end. The story starts with the narrator describing a dark, cold, ghostly scene as he looks out the window during a lively, joyful, brightly-lit party. While the party attendees look elegant and pristine on the surface, they are superficial and envious within. Everyone at the party admires the hosts, the Lantys, for their inherited wealth and beauty, yet their fortune came at the price and shame of their granduncle, Zambinella, who was castrated in order to become a famous opera singer. Although he was admired for his beauty, it led to his own bitterness and inability to love. Finally, the idea that true love often leads to suffering is revealed when the sculptor, Sarrasine, discovers Zambinella’s true identity.
Then, I would examine the theme of illusion, as it is represented by the Lanty family and their secrets. The narrator’s lover, a young dancer, is astonished and intrigued by an old, mysterious man at the party who no one seems to know much about. She is also mesmerized by a beautiful painting of what appears to be Adonis, the young man adored by the Greek goddess Aphrodite, but is actually based on a sculpture representing the perfect woman.
Finally, I would explain how the story criticizes Parisian high society. The narrator and his lover, while they seem to have an egalitarian relationship that is beyond physical, are judging the customs, scandals and love affairs of their prestigious hosts' family history. At the same time, they seem to find value and beauty in these mysteries and paradoxes and feel that they represent what makes Paris interesting and unique.
“Paris,” said she, “is an exceedingly hospitable place; it welcomes one and all, fortunes stained with shame, and fortunes stained with blood. Crime and infamy have a right of asylum here; virtue alone is without altars. But pure hearts have a fatherland in heaven! No one will have known me! I am proud of it.” (Source 1)