Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 396

French literature of the 1950s and 1960s is marked by a sense of estrangement and alienation. Writers more outspoken than Duras, such as Camus and Sartre, spoke of the absurd, and felt that human beings were trapped in life with no escape. The Square treats the same theme, but with more subtle undertones. The two protagonists, a young domestic servant in her early twenties and a traveling salesman, have no property, no social prestige, and seemingly no hope of improving their situation. The man in particular seems to have lost all ambition, and accepts his work as the sum total of his existence. He has little interest in society and its values.

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The young woman, on the other hand, lives a monotonous and meaningless life, minding a child and caring for a senile woman, but hopes one day to escape this situation through marriage. Therefore, she goes to a local dance every Saturday in order to meet prospective suitors. So far no one has come along, but she trusts that "he" eventually will. One critic comments, "Conditions have annihilated her sense of identity. If she is somehow to be recreated as a person, if life is at least to start for her, she must be chosen by someone; this explains the importance of the theme of marriage in the book, the real theme of creation or recreation."

Duras also addresses the question of the lower social classes. The young girl is a domestic servant, sent off to work at the age of sixteen without much hope of education or social advancement. One detects a note of sympathy for these people, as seen elsewhere in Duras's work, possibly because of the author's own poverty-stricken childhood. The young girl accepts her condition, yet her descriptions of service in the household and attention to the senile woman evoke compassion. In addition, during this period Duras was interested in communism, which is evident in the novel's emphasis on the working class.

The role of women in society has always interested Duras. One critic quotes Duras and comments: "Marguerite Duras's writing is a woman's writing, in this sense: For thousands of years, silence has been synonymous with women. Therefore, literature is women. It's women whether it speaks of women or is created by women." Thus the young girl in The Square shows a passion in which she loses her own identity.

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