Themes and Meanings
The plot of this novel is uncomplicated, and the characters are all really supernumeraries, except for the central figure, the principal “vagabond,” Renéee. The epithet that gives the book its title personifies its theme: Only by wandering in pursuit of the fulfillment of her talents, by cherishing her solitude and privacy, by keeping relationships casual and temporary, can a woman attain the autonomy she seeks. The factors that militate against this achievement, as sketched above, are not as important as the nature of the woman herself, who possesses the determination and self-knowledge that enable her to work toward her goal despite its pain and cost. The book clearly indicates that the effort is worth the battle and that any other outcome would render the woman’s life meaningless and servile.
The significance of her heroine’s life is not expressed as a universal truth about the lives of all women, but Colette does appear to suggest that women would do well to examine closely their motivations and values, and those of men as well. In this particular book, she does not seem to think that men are as capable as women at this effort. She is somewhat contemptuous toward men, though good-humored, tender, and sympathetic.