*In order to write this paper you have to watch the film “The Lover” by Marguerite Duras.
a) What you first need to do is write a page or two on M.Duras’ interesting life and career from several outside sources. They should be documented. Take notes from your research and write something worthwhile so you will be able to understand the importance of the main character – you should call her the Young Duras – in her novella and the film based on it. Students who do not do this or take the other parts of the research sections seriously will not be able to understand the Young Duras or the
world she grew up in Indochina. They will simply trivialize her life and her experiences. It is important to bear in mind there are cultural differences between the French and Americans especially male and female relationships and the fact that the setting is Indochina, a French colony, during the 1930’s complicates everything.
b) After you write this part of Section 1, you will have to explain in this part that M. Duras was influenced by French existentialism, knew Jean – Paul Sartre, his interesting on and off again partner and friend for life Simon de Beauvoir who wrote the famous feminist book The Second Sex, and explain M. Duras was familiar with the writing of Albert Camus especially his essay collection The Rebel. What you will need to do is write something simple about them and their views with transitions between them. This should take at least a page or two for most students.
c) You should explain in the final part of Section 1 that you need to know something about race relations (problems) under French colonialism to understand The Lover. You can do some research on this. Another way to explain them is to focus of the political definition of “white man’s burden” which was derived from a poem by Rudyard Kipling. You don’t need to talk about Kipling or his poem though you can if you want to. The main idea behind the poem is that Europeans (whites), European or Western culture and society including religion are superior and more advanced, more “civilized “, than the rest of the world
especially Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and it is the moral responsibility or “burden” of the white race (viewed as superior) to raise other races (viewed as inferior) to their moral and intellectual standards. This blatantly racist and false myth was used as an excuse for Europe to conquer and plunder much of the world through its colonies. You need to know this background to understand better the relationship and personalities of the Young Duras and her Chinese lover. First, both the Young Duras and her Chinese lover are breaking racial taboos and second, it has to be assumed that the Chinese lover is walking around with lot of repressed anger and rage from the racial humiliation he has had to experience on a daily basis in a French colony despite his wealth and his sophisticated Asian cultural background. This knowledge will help you understand what happens in the two dinner party scenes in the novel and film based on it.
Explain that The Lover is an autobiographical novel set in Indochina (now Vietnam) during the 1930’s when Indochina was a French colony and that Duras sees her life as a young woman as an “existential” rebel figure who is living in an “absurd world” and that for her to live life fully, to live an “authentic life” and be true to herself, she must take risks, break boundaries and derive meaning and value from wherever she can-inside herself, from her reading and from the world she observes and experiences outside. Then go on to define and discuss fully the “absurd world” she lives in-her relationship to white colonial society in
Indochina, her family situation, the ties and barriers to the Asian communities in Indochina, her situation as a student in Saigon, the capital city, and explain why she must become a rebel out of necessity. It’s also important to point out that the young Dura’s openness to taking risks and her determination to live life fully at all cost are connected to her decision to become a writer, her success as a student and that she is more mature, stronger and determined than most young women of her age. Be sure to discuss
how her dress-the man’s hat-and general attitude reflect the young Duras’ rebellious and defiant personality and use the quotation about the importance of wearing the hat from the novel or film based on it.
Introduce the relationship between the young Duras and her Chinese lover. Identify and explain the various motives for it. There are many-the need for intimacy (similar emotional needs), physical attraction, racial, cultural and economic differences and possibly the age difference between Duras and the Chinese lover (15 1⁄2 versus 32). Introduce and explain the main idea of the novel and film-that what begins as a rebellious act by both Duras and the Chinese lover for a Variety of reasons if fueled by erotic passion and intense sexual experiences which lead to genuine emotions of affection and feelings of love despite the denials and
fears. And that even the various conflicts that emerge given the different ages, cultural, class and racial backgrounds adds to the intensity of the relationship. Trace and discuss the important stages of the love relationship. And explain as a conclusion for this section that both the author
and film director make it clear that all of intensity and confusion eventually results in a genuine or “authentic” love relationship that Duras and her Chinese lover never forget. They hold on to the memories of their relationship for their entire lives.
(Notes for Section 3)
# 1. Some students take the Young Duras’ comments – “I don’t love you. “ or “ I don’t love him” at face value. These comments do not reflect how the Young Duras’ truly feels. She tells the Chinese lover she doesn’t love him when they are in conflict and she tells her mother and family members she doesn’t love her Chinese lover because it is unheard of, not accepted that a “white” girl
love a Chinese man because he is considered racially and culturally inferior. Ironically, the French who were more open about sexuality than Americans during that historical period could tolerate a physical relationship with an Asian easier than a genuine romantic love relationship.
# 2. You are required to discuss and explain the two dinner party scenes. Why? They reveal colonial race conflicts that the Young Dura and her Chinese lover must transcend. The first dinner party scene takes place at an expensive Chinese restaurant right after they make love to each other for the first time and the Young Duras looses her “virginity” and the Young Duras begins by bragging, like a teenager, are about what her family would think if they knew she had “done that” with a Chinaman. Once she uses the term Chinaman, her Chinese lover’s attitude toward her instantly changes. For him, Chinaman is a racial slur not as bad
as Chink, the equivalent of the “ n-word”, nevertheless, he experiences it as racially insulting and condescending. Then the Young Duras says that she heard that in the colonies that if a young girl looses her “virginity” she could not get married. What she is referring to are the arranged marriages by traditional Vietnamese and Chinese families like her Chinese lovers. Then, one can say that the Chinese lover goes in for the kill or takes revenge when he cruelly say yes explains that in he could never accept that
dishonor (look up the quotation) and consequently he could never marry her because “I’m Chinese”. And then the Young Duras get red in the face and says it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t like Chinese that much anyway. How can you explain the scene. The Chinese lover already has genuine romantic feelings for the Chinese lover and he her knows she is young, just had her first sexual experience and is potentially vulnerable. Why is he cruel and not understanding? The Chinese lover is walking around with a lot of repressed anger and rage from the colonial racism he experiences on a daily basis. The Young Duras’ naïve comments brought out spontaneously the repressed anger and rage he has been walking around with much of his life. And when he claims he Is Chinese he is implying that he comes from an ancient culture that is more sophisticated and developed that the vulgar European society that oppresses him. Interestingly, he and the young Duras get over this conflict and consequently makes their relationship
stronger, The dinner scene occurs later in the film. By this time Duras’ family has adjusted the Young Duras’ relationship with her Chinese lover because he is wealthy, probably helping the family financially and as the Young Duras’ mother explained to the officials of the boarding school that her daughter is a free spirit, can not be controlled and should be allowed to spend nights away from the boarding house. In this dinner scene the Chinese lover takes the Young Duras, her mother and two brothers out to a very expensive restaurant throughout the meal the Chinese lover makes tries to make conversation but no one will listen or pay
attention. The Young Duras completely ignores his. There is a voice over from the novel that says – look up and use this quotation – that in the colonies it is impossible for a white girl to acknowledge she loves an Asian which is another example in the novel of the blatant racism that existed in French colonial Indochina. You can tell from the film the Chinese lover is beginning to feel this humiliation and by the time they all go out to a night club and watch the Young Duras, the young woman he is in love with, dance in a vulgar and intimate way with her younger brother and is also aware of disgusting way the older brother dances
with the Vietnamese dance hall girl. By the time he and the Young Duras reach the bachelor apartment his humiliation and rage erupts and her treats her like a prostitute. The young Duras consents to being treated this way but asks how much what did to her would cost in a brothel then asks how much does her mother need and gives her a substantial sum of money. This dinner scene is an obvious example of colonial racism and what happens in the bachelor flat illustrates the consequence of this humiliation – a spontaneous release of anger and rage.
# 3. There are three primary sexual or erotic scenes. One of the main ideas of the novel and the film is that what happens in the bachelor flat and the time the Young Duras and her Chinese lover spend together eventually results in “true” love, but their relationship is evolutionary, and they are not always “on the same page”. The first erotic scene reflects mutual attraction and the intensity of the Young Duras’ fist sexual experience. The second scene on the floor – perhaps not needed – is an example of raw passion, and the third scene is there to convey the sensual beauty and power of making love. More can be said about these scenes, but I’ve outlined the basic ideas.
Discuss how Marguerite Duras’ novel and the film based on it are “feminist” texts and provide examples to back up your argument.
(Notes for Final Conclusion)
The Young Duras is a strong female character. She will not let her rejection from French colonial society, her dysfunctional family or her relative isolation from Asian society (Vietnamese and Chinese) destroy her or kill her ambitions to be a writer for example and be herself. She is also a strong female character because she insists on defining life in her own terms. She consciously breaks a racial taboo by having a romantic relationship with her Chinese lover in spite of the age differences. Another way to look at it is she takes charge of her own “sexuality” and breaks the “double standard” where men are often celebrated for their sexual exploits while women are condemned for theirs. More importantly it is the Young Duras who actually “pulls off” this complicated relationship despite problems from her high school, the boarding school where she lives and from her family.
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