Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 578
Jerome Palissier (zhay-ROHM pah-lees-SYAY ), the narrator, a scholar. A sensitive and romantic but passive child (and then young man), he is obsessed with his love for his first cousin Alissa. This love issues from a fascination with virtue and self-abnegation, and from a desire to...
(The entire section contains 1044 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Jerome Palissier (zhay-ROHM pah-lees-SYAY), the narrator, a scholar. A sensitive and romantic but passive child (and then young man), he is obsessed with his love for his first cousin Alissa. This love issues from a fascination with virtue and self-abnegation, and from a desire to protect Alissa from life. He is, however, continually frustrated by Alissa’s delaying tactics and refusals and by his own inability to overcome his passivity and act. Like Alissa, he fears the physical side of love. After Alissa’s death, he remains faithful to her memory.
Alissa Bucolin (ah-LEE-sah bew-koh-LA[N]), Jerome’s first cousin, a serious, gentle, and artistic young woman who, repulsed by her mother’s sexuality and infidelity, seeks to repress her own love for Jerome by insisting on the necessity of pure spiritual love and self-sacrifice. Her goal becomes nothing less than sainthood, an unmediated relationship with God. To that end, she abandons all nonspiritual concerns (music and literature), devotes herself to an ascetic existence (simple food and dress), and refuses to accept Jerome’s timid advances. After her death, her diary reveals the despair that came from her inability to transcend her earthly love for Jerome.
Juliette Bucolin, Alissa’s younger sister, an attractive and vivacious girl. Although less religiously oriented than Alissa, she shows an equally strong capacity for self-sacrifice when, despite her love for Jerome, she agrees to marry Édouard Teissières. She does, however, succeed in finding a form of happiness in motherhood and domesticity.
Lucile Bucolin, the adopted daughter of Pastor Vautier, Alissa’s mother. She is a strikingly beautiful woman of Creole origin, Her languid, sensual nature makes her feel stifled by the strict Protestant society in which she lives. Toward the start of the novel, she runs off with a lover. Her blatant infidelity to her husband shocks Alissa and Jerome and reinforces their fear of sexuality.
Abel Vautier (ah-BEHL voh-TYAY), the son of Pastor Vautier and friend of Jerome, who falls in love with Juliette. He later writes a novel that Alissa finds shocking.
Félicie Plantier (fay-lee-SEE plahn-TYAY), the cousins’ aunt, a good-hearted but slightly scatterbrained woman who tries, with disastrous results, to bring Alissa and Jerome together.
Monsieur Bucolin, Alissa’s father and Jerome’s maternal uncle. A passive and gentle man, he is crushed by his wife’s departure and seeks support and consolation from Alissa, who lives with him until his death.
Madame Palissier, Jerome’s mother, a widow who wears only black. She is a strong-willed and conservative woman who regards Lucile Bucolin’s nontraditional behavior as both shocking and immoral. She dies while Jerome is still a student.
Robert Bucolin, the younger brother of Alissa and Juliette, a relatively uninteresting boy whom Jerome temporarily takes under his wing in Paris out of a sense of duty.
Pastor Vautier, the father of Abel Vautier and (through adoption) of Lucile Bucolin. The sermon he pronounces after Lucile’s desertion of her family contains the biblical verse (Luke 13:24, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way . . .”) from which the novel’s title is taken and that so strongly influences Alissa’s and Jerome’s conduct.
Miss Flora Ashburton
Miss Flora Ashburton, Jerome’s mother’s former tutor, now her companion.
Édouard Teissières (ay-DWAHR teh-SYEHR), a winegrower from Nîmes who marries Juliette.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
Evidently inspired by Gide’s recollections of his courtship with his future wife Madeleine Rondeaux (like Alissa, a slightly older first cousin), Strait Is the Gate departs from autobiography in the author’s skillful presentation of characters both major and minor. Jerome Palissier is an unreliable narrator, a literal-minded pedant who ignores clues in Alissa’s behavior that are readily perceived by the reader. Alissa herself, her sensuality seeping out despite—or perhaps even because of—her willful quest for sainthood, is a truly masterful creation, delicately balanced just on the credible side of caricature. Although doubtless aware of Sigmund Freud’s early studies of repressed sexuality, Gide in Strait Is the Gate manages to establish the link between Alissa’s mother’s nymphomania and her own outraged reaction without resorting to obvious stereotype. Alissa’s bizarre quest, although solicitously portrayed throughout by Jerome, is undermined from the start by her evident stubbornness, a manifestation of self-centeredness that argues against any true vocation. Throughout the novel, Alissa’s renunciations and “sacrifices” are simply too deliberate and willful to sustain the reader’s complicity, even as he or she might feel tempted to share the same ideal. Like Michel, the protagonist of Gide’s earlier recit, L’Immoraliste (1902; The Immoralist, 1930), who sacrifices his marriage and other relationships for the goal of self-realization, Alissa will fail to reach her chosen goal.
Set among the rich bourgeois and landed gentry of late nineteenth century Normandy, Strait Is the Gate nearly qualifies as a novel of manners, thanks to Gide’s perceptive delineation of the minor characters involved. Juliette Bucolin, Alissa’s younger sister, is earthy and spontaneous; despite her early infatuation with Jerome, Juliette’s successful and prolific marriage to the prosperous Tessieres, many years her senior, surprises the reader less than it does the other characters. Mme Felicie Plantier, the cousins’ aunt, emerges delightfully as a busybody who supposes that her meddling is unobtrusive. Abel Vautier, son of the Protestant pastor whose sermon on Luke is credited with launching Alissa on her quest, flees the family hearth for a career in journalism and sudden notoriety as the author of a sensational novel which Alissa, by then, will refuse to read. Jerome’s widowed mother (a reflection of Gide’s own) and his British governess Miss Ashburton (modeled on Anna Shackleton) help to fill out the picture of comfortable, well-educated French aristocracy sufficiently idle to be especially vulnerable to such aberrations as Alissa’s initially thoughtful, ultimately thoughtless striving toward a sainthood envisioned after listening to Pastor Vautier’s sermons.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 39
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