A Very Long Engagement

by Sebastien Japrisot

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Themes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 639

Love
The enduring nature of love is set against the destructiveness of war. Mathilde is so devoted to her fiancé that she tirelessly works to discover his fate and clings to the belief he is still alive. It is clear her love was reciprocated. During the seven months Manech was at war, Mathilde received sixty-three letters and postcards from him. She has read these so often she could recite them all word for word.

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When Mathilde rediscovers Manech, although he does not recognize her because of his amnesia, his first words to her are exactly the same as those he spoke when they met as children: "You can't walk?" This is a significant moment. So much has been destroyed and yet here is a hint the two young people can start again, almost as if nothing has changed. Love can survive, even under such awful circumstances. They must rebuild and get to know each other again, but they can still have a future together. Although the author chooses not to elaborate on how their renewed relationship develops, the reference to Mrs. Desrochelles as Mathilde's future mother-in-law makes it clear that Mathilde and Manech do eventually marry. The same inference is conveyed by the narrator's comment, as Mathilde gazes at her fiancé: "Life is long and can still carry a great deal more on its back."

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The love theme can also be seen in the story of Tina and Nino (Common Law), even though their story is much darker. It is like a reverse image of the idyllic love between the admirable Mathilde and Manech. Nino is a pimp and Tina a prostitute, but her love for him and her dedication to finding out the truth about what happened to him are no less than Mathilde's. It is implied that even though Tina and Nino led lives that most would regard as disreputable, the love they shared was no less valuable or intense than that of the other couple. There are all kinds of people and all kinds of love in the world, and it is love that is the antidote to war.

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Latest answer posted January 30, 2019, 8:19 pm (UTC)

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Antiwar
The antiwar theme is brought out on all levels. The war is presented as barbaric, cruel, and senseless. Common Law, for example, gives thanks that he is not in the "first batch tossed into that meat grinder," an image that presents the soldiers as cattle being sent to the slaughterhouse. Daniel Esperanza, who was in the thick of the conflict, roundly condemns it and punctures any myths of the glory of war. He remarks on the photographs he possesses of soldiers showing "self-glorification for having captured a gun or an exhausted enemy soldier . . . self-satisfaction at the funeral of a fallen comrade."

The barbarity of the sentences meted out to the prisoners is also condemned by many of the characters. Esperanza's commanding officer, as he passes on his orders to Esperanza, says that in his opinion, "a good half of the high command should be sent off to the nuthouse." And yet when a pardon is received for the men, five days before they are pushed into no-man's-land, it is ignored. There is an official cover-up of the incident. No officers are allowed to sign any papers relating to the affair, and they are told to just forget about what happened. The official version, that the men were killed in action, is just one example of what the narrator scathingly refers to as "the lies called History." There are other examples of the narrator making his feelings known independently of the characters. When Mathilde visits the cemetery, she finds the grave of Six-Sous, who like the others died for no reason. The narrator comments on "the obscenity of a war that hadn't had one [a reason], aside from the egoism, hypocrisy, and vanity of a privileged few."

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