Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 559

The Tidings Brought to Mary is a play about salvation, which can be achieved only by the way of the Cross. Those who will walk in this way must learn compassion, forgiveness, and self-abnegation. In their sufferings, they must find joy; in death itself, they must rejoice. The aim of life, Paul Claudel believed, is spiritual growth; finally, one must attain perfect subjection to the will of God.

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At the beginning of the story, Violaine has simple ambitions: to marry the man she loves and to have his children. Even in the first scene of the play, however, her spiritual qualities are evident. Violaine forgives Pierre for his attack upon her. She denies her own desires by giving up Jacques’s ring for the church. Finally, instead of being repelled by Pierre’s leprosy, she feels compassion for him and kisses him without a thought of her own danger. It is not surprising that she can accept her own leprosy without anger and that she can forgive Jacques for turning upon her and Mara for causing her death, as she has already forgiven Pierre for a far lesser wrong.

Mara, Jacques, and Pierre illustrate various defects of the soul. Mara’s jealousy of her sister causes her to desire Jacques; even when Violaine is leprous and blind, Mara is still in the grips of that old hatred, which drives her to kill Violaine. As Violaine points out, however, Jacques has his own imperfections, which—like Mara’s—are the result of a preoccupation with himself and a resulting lack of compassion for others. Jacques reveals his selfishness when he learns of Violaine’s disease and his love turns to hatred. If only he had had faith in her, Violaine says as she is dying, she might have been cured by love. The contrast between her tender treatment of Pierre, whom she does not even pretend to love, and Jacques’s brusque treatment of her, his betrothed, is obvious. Faced with his own sins, Jacques must forgive Mara, and thus he gains a new spiritual dimension.

Unlike Mara and Jacques, Pierre is by nature spiritual, as Violaine is. Even though in his desire for her he had briefly dreamed of a simple married life, he is essentially a builder of churches, a man of action who will joyfully work for God. It is suffering that he cannot manage, however, whether it results from Violaine’s rejection or from his disease. As Violaine tells him, he must learn not only to endure, but also to accept suffering joyfully, as a gift from God. When he does, Pierre is cured of the physical disease, but more significantly, he is spiritually healed. By accepting death, symbolized by leprosy, he attains eternal life.

By her own suffering, her forgiveness, and her acceptance of death-in-life and of death itself, Violaine has far more influence on others than she would have had if, like her father and mother, she had simply led a good but humble life. When the world becomes too busy with its own concerns to remember the demands of God, someone like Violaine is sent to remind it. It is no accident that the play is set during the life of Joan of Arc who, like Violaine, like Christ himself, triumphed over death by submitting to it as the final demand of God.

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