Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614

Estrangement and ensuing loneliness are the motivating forces that drive Chaveriat to find some sort of fulfillment in the arms of young girls—his tender shoots. It is with his boyhood friend Eyrand’s betrayal of their friendship that Chaveriat enters into his world of solitude, never again to establish a truly meaningful bond with another person. Even the secrecy of Chaveriat’s love life has limited an otherwise deeper relationship between him and his woman friend, the narrator. He confesses that he has been just like any other man in his involvement with women, his attraction toward a sensible marriage. However, he rejects any close or permanent relationship in a kind of self-willed effort to remain separate and alone.

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The lonely world in which Chaveriat has chosen to live has prevented him from entering into an adult relationship on an intimate basis. He was unwilling to give up the deep abiding friendship he had with Eyrand. Not wanting to be hurt again, he substituted those to whom he would not and could not become deeply attached except on a superficial and physical basis. As Chaveriat stated, his friendship for Eyrand surpassed the faithful devotion of a lover for his mistress. Old boughs for tender shoots, he says to his woman friend, is the lie he tells to excuse himself for the lust he feels for young girls.

Though there appears at times to be some yearning for a deeper meaning in his relationship with young girls than simple sexual gratification, he has not been able to go beyond treating them as a species, as a sexual symbol that must be studied and then consumed. Louisette reinforces the theme of loneliness, for he sees her showing no fundamental gaiety and living in dangerous solitude. They increase in each other this sense of separateness in their game of mutual exploitation. He saw her exploiting him as a lecherous man who has found a willing girl, and he saw himself as one relieving Louisette of her youthful boredom. However, to give some kind of meaning to their relationship he wished she could show some affection, could treat her unselfish lover as a friend, perhaps the friend that Eyrand once had been. Chaveriat noted at their parting that no words of tenderness, desire, or friendliness had been exchanged. She would not let him into her secret life and refused any show of affection, his gifts, and any attempts to know her better. In this way Louisette intensified his sense of rejection and loneliness. Their only intimacy was physical, and her only way to communicate with him was with kisses.

Chaveriat’s hope for meaningful, adult intimacy ended at the time of his estrangement from Eyrand. He was left alone, rejected and abandoned. From that point in time Chaveriat did not mature psychologically in his relationship with women. In fact he confesses that Louisette’s sensuality in a grown woman would have revolted him.

This conflict between his self-imposed loneliness and his escape from reality created a life for him of empty romantic intrigues, the shallowness of which is climaxed and revealed in his final amorous episode with Louisette. Chaveriat’s reaction to his own story is one of sadness, this sadness he also felt emanating from Louisette. The result of his adventure with her was a feeling of disgust and a desire to reject all the Louisettes of his past. His compensation was freedom from this bondage of empty and meaningless sexual gratification with young girls. Finally healed, at least in part, of the loneliness that estrangement had thrust on him, he could now turn to those other than the Louisettes of the world to comfort him.

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