Social Concerns / Themes

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The three short narratives that constitute this book were composed as a diary in 1944, during World War II. Duras says that she does not remember writing them, although she recognizes the handwriting as being her own. The first and longest dramatically tells the story of her activities in the French Resistance and her fear that her husband might be dead. In it she captures the anguish of all women waiting for someone to return from combat or prison. The ring of the telephone is an omen of bad news. Women wait anxiously at train stations for men to return from liberated camps. The Allies are advancing, but the Nazis often kill prisoners rather than allowing them to be liberated. Anxiously her thoughts turn to her husband while her feet take her through Paris. She is sure of the worst. Then one day he is brought back, at death's door. She nurses him through a long and difficult illness, from which he eventually recovers. One day she tells him she plans to divorce him to have a child by another man, a friend of his. This surprise announcement illustrates the emotional strains produced by war, and the breakdown of marriages caused by these upheavals.

The second story, "Monsieur X, Here Called Rabier," addresses the ambiguous relationships between the French and the Germans during the Occupation. The author has come to know Rabier while trying to make contact with her husband. Rabier, however, is a mystery to her. She does not know whether he intends to kill her or whether he is serious in offering her food and other items that were difficult to obtain during this period. After the Liberation, the situation changes. The author testifies twice at Rabier's trial, once against him, and once for him. The Judge does not understand the conflicting testimony, and the dilemma is never resolved.

The third part consists of three short anecdotes, relating to war trials and to the uncertainty they produce. The final anecdote in this part, which Duras declares to be fiction, recounts the story of a little seven-year-old Jewish girl, Aurelia Steiner, who was protected by a Gentile woman when her parents were deported. Although the child survives, one can surmise that her parents were killed. Thus the whole Jewish question and the Holocaust comes to life through the child.

These moving war memoirs confirm a theme that appears frequently in Duras's work. In an interview with the newspaper Liberation in 1990, Duras lists as her first fear, Hitler. She notes that she is also afraid of German youth who have not learned the truth about their country and the power of Hitler. In addition, she lists the abuses of the Gulag and all dictatorships — Stalin, Ceausescu, and others. It is no doubt that she published War in 1985 consisting of memoirs from 1944 to address these issues.

Yet war is not the only theme that dominates the book. Its French title La Douleur (Suffering) reveals further themes of deep emotion: love and eroticism, as well as despair and revenge. A woman's relations with many men appear against a background of violence and cruelty. In the beginning, her relationships heighten feelings of despair on a personal level, where so many people will never again see their loved ones. The reactions of the French after the Liberation show the compulsion for vengeance and the desire to bring all offenders to justice, an attempt which so often gives rise to further injustices and strange paradoxes.

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