Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jerome Palissier

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

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


(The entire section is 578 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 427 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bree, Germaine. Gide, 1963.

Cordle, Thomas. André Gide, 1969.

Fowlie, Wallace. André Gide: His Life and Art, 1965.

Freedman, Ralph. The Lyrical Novel, 1963.

Hytier, Jean. André Gide, 1962.

Ireland, George William. André Gide: A Study of His Creative Writings, 1970.

Starkie, Enid. André Gide, 1954.