Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 589
Florentine . . . Florentine Lacasse . . . half song, half squalor, half springtime, half misery . . .
When Jean thinks of Florentine, he is confused by the contrast between his perception of her as unrefined and his evident attraction towards her. This confusion continues during their short courtship. Ultimately, Jean believes that he can’t be with someone like Florentine and decides to be glad that his friend is attracted to her instead. However, he rapes and impregnates Florentine in the end and then leaves her to deal with it alone.
I'm probably goin’ to be promoted, and it’ll be more than twenty bucks you’ll get then, you just wait. You’ll have enough to live on, Ma. You won’t have to scrape all your life, the rest of us’ll see to that.
Eugene Lacasse promises to send his mother money once he joins the military. It’s a glimmer of hope for the family because it means that they might be able to escape their desperate financial situation. However, Eugene doesn’t come through on his word. It’s another disappointment for Rose-Anna, who is already losing her youngest son, Daniel, to leukemia; is pregnant with another; and is desperately trying to find a new place to live to avoid rising rent prices and potential eviction. Though Eugene doesn’t come through and send money home, this quote demonstrates the hope that many people of Saint-Henri have toward the war: they see it as an opportunity to better their lives and financial situations.
And the word “wedding,” which she had always linked the happiness [sic], now seemed austere, distressing, full of snares and revelations. She saw her mother, heavy and moving with difficulty. A vision of herself as a victim of the same deformity was vivid in her mind.
For Florentine, who formerly daydreamed about a better life and social situation for herself, marriage has lost its charm: she must marry Emmanuel to cover the scandal of her rape and pregnancy and to find financial security. Even though she manages to escape her problems by marrying Emmanuel, she sees that, in some ways, she will still live her mother’s difficult life.
War and poverty are two conflicting motifs in the book, as the war actually provides escape from poverty for some people. A conversation between Emmanuel and Florentine highlights this tension:
“Why are we going, your brother and your father and I?”
She looked up, surprised.
“You mean, why did you join up?”
“Well, I can only see one reason,” she said soberly. “It’s because it served your purpose to go into the army.”
He looked at her in silence a long time. Yes, he should have thought of that before. She was closer to the people than he was. She knew them better than he did. She had the answers. And he seemed to hear the answer she had given him whispered by those thousands of sighs of relief. And distantly, through that breath of liberation rising from the crowd, he heard the chink of money.
They’ve been bought, he thought. They’ve been bought too.
Despite his idealistic comments about the war to his friends earlier in the novel, Emmanuel feels that his service and loyalty have been purchased for money. He leaves the slums by virtue of his joining the military; it isn’t his ideals that drive him. Rather, it is the opportunity to escape from poverty and hopelessness that leads him, along with numerous others in Saint-Henri, to join the military.