Swann's Way Themes
by Marcel Proust

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Swann's Way Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Proust forever will be known as the poet of memory, "the whole universe in a cup of tea." Early in the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past, the author dips a little cake called a madeleine into a cup of tea, and with the familiar taste of his childhood, recalls his days in Combray. The experience of involuntary memory will return about eight times in the course of the novel, and represents for Proust the conquest of time and the attainment of a certain kind of eternity through memory. In this way Proust joins his contemporaries Freud and Jung in their discovery of the world of the subconscious and of esoteric myths and symbols.

The problem of the oversensitive child, extremely attached to his mother and frightened by his father, appears in the opening pages and throughout "Combray," the first major section of Swann's Way. With delicate humor and graphic symbols of death, the author describes his compelling need to kiss his mother good-night, even when she is engaged in a dinner party. Both mother and father give in to the nervous whim of their son, and he realizes that he will never be free of dependence during his lifetime.

Swann's Way is dominated by the themes of love and sensuality. Proust traces the entire gamut of this emotion, and evokes all of its excesses and inversions. In a beautiful May-time scene, the author first sees little Gilberte Swann against a hawthorn bush, and she will forever remain as he first saw her, a love idealized. On the other hand, the voyeuristic author observes the lesbian actions of Mile. Vinteuil and her friend in front of her father's portrait, and thereby makes the acquaintance of the world of evil. Proust, himself a homosexual, although the narrator of the story is not, places great emphasis on this type of love. He describes it overtly with sadistic overtones, usually expressing it tragically and painfully, unlike Gide's triumphant confessions.

The second major part of Volume I, "Swann in Love," is totally devoted to the theme of passion and jealousy. Swann is hopelessly enamored of the unfaithful and coquettish Odette de Crecy, and soon recognizes her inability to maintain a commitment. With ruthless jealousy and suspicion he pursues...

(The entire section is 552 words.)