Sunday, January 29, 2006

"La Femme Adultère" Ways of Reading

Camus's short story "La Femme Adultère" was written in 1954 and concerns the feelings of isolation, loss of youth and desire of the central character Janine as she follows her traveling salesman husband around pre-independent Algeria. As the story is set in pre-independent Algeria, Janine experiences isolation in a male dominated society that she finds very alienating. The story climaxes with a scene where Janine has a very sensual encounter with the desert, where she contemplates her marriage and life. The central themes concerning the extract are how the male dominated society of Algeria affects Janine and her feelings of isolation and restriction, her desires, both for freedom and sexual, also the state of her marriage.

Through out the "La Femme Adultère", Camus gives the impression of enforced isolation on Janine. She feels alienated by the country she is in as Camus had set the story in pre-independent Algeria, a very male dominated society. However, ironically, despite her unwanted isolation, in the extract Janine voluntarily seeks “la solitude et le silence” and therefore goes to the fort. Camus emphasizes Janine's feelings of alienation from this society by the use of zero focalization. Allowing the reader to experience the Algerian society objectionably and allowing them to experience the effects of it on Janine, particularly in the extract. Camus reflects Janine's feelings of isolation with the use of pathetic fallacy. The lexical fields for cold, "l'air froid", "l'air glacé" emphasize Janine's feelings of coldness, and alienation from the environment she is in.

The oppression experienced by Janine in Algerian society leads to an overwhelming desire for freedom. This is another essential theme running throughout the extract as Janine allows her self to experience liberation for the first time in the story when she climbs to the top of the fort to observe the desert. Camus uses the desert as a possible metaphor for several things. In this case the desert is a possibly being used to represent the freedom that Janine craves. It's vast expanse and wilderness makes it very attractive to Janine, and combined with the "milliers d'étoiles" of the sky, she cannot resist its calling. It could be said that the continuous references or lexical field for stars represent her hope, as stars have connotations of wishing. At the beginning of the extract, there is a "guirlandes d'étoiles" in the sky, representing Janine's hope of freedom. As the extract progresses the stars "tombaient, une à une", demonstrating how as she has this encounter with the sky, she feels her hope progressively slipping away because this is a temporary experience and she'll have to go back to her mundane and restrictive life.

The liberation of Janine by the desert continues with her sexual liberation from her husband. As she is trapped in a loveless marriage, Camus uses the desert as a way for Janine to conduct a passionate encounter, hence the "La Femme Adultère". Camus uses very erotic imagery to give the impression that Janine and the sky have a sexual encounter, "l'eau de la nuit commença d'émplir Janine". The imagery used here has connotations of sexual intercourse, particularly "d'émplir" as it is physical touching. To emphasize the passion of the moment, Camus personifies the sky as it performs physical acts, "giration pesante", making the moment seem more realistic to the reader. Another interpretation of the stars is that they act as features of the night sky as they seduce her, "milliers d'étoiles se formaient sans trêve et leurs glaçons étincelants". It is possible that the word "étincelants" could be the sky's equivalent of winking eyes, therefore seductive. The long sentences of description on the sky and the surroundings that Janine experienced creates a slow pace to the extract. By doing this, Camus reflects how Janine is relishing the experience, taking in every detail and therefore the reader does as well.

Another key theme that runs through out the extract is the theme of marriage which links to the theme of isolation. Janine's fear of loneliness and isolation has forced her to stay in a loveless marriage. Yet, ironically, it is this marriage that is making her lonely. Their inability to connect with one another is made apparent by the only direct speech in the whole passage. This is clearly demonstrated when Janine repeats "Ce n'est rien", and shows that their marriage is based on fallacy denial as there is. The repetition of "ce n'est rien" emphasizes the denial and lack of intimacy between Janine and Marcel, as she cannot confess her true feelings of unhappiness to him, therefore she must carry on living a lie. It is possible that the dry, arid and lifeless desert is a metaphor for the state of marriage of Janine and Marcel. The state of the marriage is emphasized by the way of contrast between the passionless exchange between the two spouses and by the passionate encounter of Janine and the sky. The long sensual descriptive sentences of the night sky contrast to the short and direct sentences used to describe Marcel, who Camus characterizes to be an insensitive man who "la regarda, sans comprendre".Camus is clearly trying to create a contrast between the two lovers, by showing that the night sky understands Janine better than her own husband.

The extract from Camus' "La Femme Adultère" is the culmination of a story of alienation and isolation. Camus uses the protagonist of Janine to explore these ideas. Janine's encounter with the desert is a combination of desire for freedom from a male dominated society and freedom from her loveless marriage. This desire for freedom allows for a very erotic and passionate encounter with the desert sky. By use of emotive and erotic language, Camus creates an almost sexual encounter between Janine and the sky. This emotive language contrasts with the passionless language used to describe the scene at the very end between Janine and Marcel. The overall effect of this is a passionate yet slowly paced extract allowing for the reader and Janine to take in the beauty of Janine's life altering experience.

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Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you so much for your insightful comments. I'm reading this story in French, and so much is lost in my bungled dictionary translation. You have helped to recover the poetry in a way I couldn't even comprehend. Hopefully one day I will be able to understand the nuances and beauty of French writing as I do in English. :)


Anonymous said...


Ambitious Vagabond said...

Thanks for the interpretations. I was super confused throughout the story. your insight has shone light on the mysterious style of camus

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this summary!

alec said...

great analysis, merci