Silence Summary (Nathalie Sarraute)

Nathalie Sarraute


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Central to Sarraute’s work is the desire to communicate and the exploration of language as a vehicle for this communication. Words and silence can trigger an entire range of reactions. In a novel, the silence of a character may not be noticeable, but the prolonged silence of an actor is obvious and disturbing to an audience. In Silence, the nonparticipation of one person brings up an entire realm of uncertainties.

As the play opens, M.1 has interrupted himself in the midst of describing an unspecified, exotic locale. He suddenly becomes embarrassed by his romantic effusion and believes that he hears the laughter of Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre, however, has been silent throughout the story and continues to remain speechless. Although M.1 is the first to feel intimidated by Jean-Pierre’s silence, the group of anonymous spectators begins to feel uncomfortable as well. The force of M.1’s reactions to the silence awakens their unease.

During the course of the play, M.1 variously interprets Jean-Pierre’s silence, often in a contradictory manner. Jean-Pierre is alternately described as timid, arrogant, sensitive, anti-intellectual, or stupid. In this way, M.1 is transformed into a potential creator who composes and revises a personality for his spectator. The personality he devises for Jean-Pierre arises out of his imagination rather than his observations. M.1 is also keenly aware of aesthetic form, suggesting that his story might have...

(The entire section is 474 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Besser, Gretchen Rous. Nathalie Sarraute. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

Gabara, Rachel. From Split to Screened Selves: French and Francophone Autobiography in the Third Person. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Jefferson, Ann. Nathalie Sarraute, Fiction and Theory: Questions of Difference. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Le Sage, Laurent. The French New Novel: An Introduction and a Sampler. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962.

Mercier, Vivian. The New Novel from Queneau to Pinget. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1971.

O’Beirne, Emer. Reading Nathalie Sarraute: Dialogue and Distance. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1999.

Peebles, Catherine M. The Psyche of Feminism: Sand, Colette, Sarraute. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2004.

Popkin, Debra, ed. Modern French Literature. Vol. 2. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977.

Temple, Ruth Z. Nathalie Sarraute. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.