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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 548

My Secret History follows the tradition of a bildungsroman (a novel concerned with a youth's education and maturation), in which the protagonist, Andre Parent, changes from "innocent" to "experienced" in reaction to his environment. This transformation begins when his friend and confessor. Father Furty, dies. At a time when Andre's...

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My Secret History follows the tradition of a bildungsroman (a novel concerned with a youth's education and maturation), in which the protagonist, Andre Parent, changes from "innocent" to "experienced" in reaction to his environment. This transformation begins when his friend and confessor. Father Furty, dies. At a time when Andre's involvement with the Catholic Church is motivated by greed (as altar boy, if Andre serves for three funerals, he is "given" a wedding and money from the groom) or by guilt ("I had so often felt punished — ashamed and afraid — in the glare of God's sight.") Father Furty restores the humanity of the church for Andre. For example, Andre says that Father Furty "made happiness look natural and right," a much-needed balance to the extreme repression Andre had always associated with Catholicism. But when Father Furty dies and is considered a failure by the parishioners because of his alcoholism, in Andre's eyes the church has devalued a man whom he has loved. Ultimately Andre breaks from the church and remarks of the freedom he experienced "then I walked away and was aware in those seconds that my life had just begun — like a wheel slipping off an axle and rolling alone, and already it was spinning faster."

Andre eventually takes decisive steps to change his life and escape the drudgery and stupidity that he sees around him. As he says in the opening statement of the book "I was born poor in Rich America, yet my instincts were better than money and were for me a source of power." Rather than depending upon the church for guidance now, Andre begins to establish his own rules. After reading a poem by Baudelaire about a lover ("naked except for her jewels, wearing make up. Gleaming buttocks, Moorish slave. Like a captive tiger . . . she was black, and she yearned for him"), he is encouraged to escape America and its repressive atmosphere and go to Africa. There his desire to live a dual life becomes a dominant force in his plans.

For the remainder of the novel Andre is a divided character. Although he returns to a type of unity when he first meets his wife, he ultimately returns to the dual lifestyle, keeping a mistress in America and a wife in Britain. In the end it is only as a writer that Andre seems able to find contentment without deception. The creation of a third self, the self of the writer, frees Andre. He now keeps his literary ideas to himself, as "secrets" that he finds so vitally important. It is a transformation that Andre revels in. Speaking of a novel that he was working on, Andre explains that his wife "had not seen a word of it; no one had. That secrecy made me strong." Likewise, merely acting as an observer in his own life seems to him a viable continuation of his secret history. In the final scene of the novel, when Andre is faced with choosing his wife (who represents security and rationality) or his mistress (who represents eroticism and irrationality), he declares: "I know exactly what to do." Although his choice remains ambiguous to the reader, it seems likely that Andre will settle into a monogamous relationship since his writing can now fulfill his need for mystery.

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