Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526
In These Festive Nights, Blais combines the technique of stream of consciousness with an omniscient narrator, permitting her to take the reader from the mind of one character to another in a continuous flow of thought and language. She uses repetitive images and descriptions of the characters to make the shifts without interruption to her text or confusion for the reader. Long sentences, often multiple pages in length, broken only by commas, reinforce the ceaseless flow of the work.
The novel depicts a disparate set of characters, all of whom are in some way interconnected, yet all living very different lives socially, economically, and intellectually. There are the wealthy, well-educated (Renata, Claude Mère, and Melanie, Daniel, and their children Samuel, Vincent, and Augustino); the intellectuals and artists (Jacques, Charles, Fréderic, Jean-Mathieu, Caroline, Suzanne, and Adrien); the ill or dying (Renata, Vincent, Jacques, Fréderic, and Jean-Mathieu); the aging (Mère, Renata, Charles, Fréderic, Adrien, Suzanne, Caroline, and Jean-Mathieu); the refugees (Julio, Eduardo, Jenny, and Marie-Sylvie and her brother); the poor African Americans (Pastor Jeremy, Mama, Carlos, Le Toqué, Venus, and Uncle Cornelius); and the homosexuals (Jacques, Tanjou, Luc, and Paul). The characters portray variants of the human condition, all tainted by suffering and death, and attempt to escape, to find happiness or at least peace in life.
The novel is structured on the juxtaposition of opposites. The setting of the story is an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Surrounded by the sea, it is a natural paradise filled with beautiful plants, birds, animals, and pleasant weather. However, danger, death, and suffering are ever present. The sea provides beauty and pleasure but can kill. The enclosed estate of Daniel and Melanie assures safety from predators within its confines, but just outside the estate, hooded figures prowl and hiss. The life of Samuel, who has everything material, contrasts sharply with the life of the impoverished Carlos. However, both suffer from a lack of true affection from either father or mother. For his parents, Samuel is “something” to be exhibited; Carlos’s parents view him as no good.
Illness, old age, death, and impending death play significant roles in the novel. Characters are haunted by images of death: families lost at sea, war atrocities, bombings, mutilations, hangings, and executions in the electric chair and by lethal injection. Both Jacques, who is dying from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and Fréderic, incapacitated by old age, can no longer care for themselves. Fréderic and Mère have memory loss.
Through the characters of Mère and Renata, Blais examines the particular problems confronting women in a patriarchal society. Both Mère and Renata have experienced rejection by their husbands because they no longer possessed the attractiveness of youth. Renata speaks of herself as a vagabond, running away from fate. For her, injustice will always be a woman’s fate, and a woman will always be seen as guilty for causing her own misery. Mère is obsessed with the need for women to become leaders, to change the world.
The novel ends with Mère listening to Venus and Samuel singing “O may my joy endure.”
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