The Immoralist | Study Guide

André Gide

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The Immoralist | Part 2, Section 2 | Summary

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Summary

Michel and Marceline arrive in Paris where Michel spends a small fortune buying furniture and decorations for their new apartment. Although Michel is happy to provide Marceline with the best things, he quickly becomes bored with Parisian life. Days filled with talking with historians bore him. He tells Marceline that these men likely do not realize they are alive because they spend so much time studying the past.

Michel's lecture on how culture kills life receives a poor reception from Paris' academic community. Afterward, Michel meets up with his old friend Mélanque. Mélanque is a historian who has traveled the world on different expeditions. Mélanque compliments Michel about the lecture because it is a sign that Michel is forming a new outlook on life and his profession. The two later meet up at Mélanque's home. There Mélanque reveals that he went to Biskra when he heard that Michel was sick. Michel and Marceline had already left by the time Mélanque arrived but he met Moktir and retrieved the stolen pair of scissors which are now rusted and bent out of shape. Mélanque is curious as to why Michel allowed Moktir to steal them. The two then argue as to how men should live.

Michel continues to work on his historical research and becomes envious of Mélanque's free, unattached life over the following weeks. One evening Mélanque visits Michel and Marceline's home during a social gathering. Marceline does not like him. Michel offhandedly insults his friend which leads to a conversation about their shared values. Mélanque reveals that he will leave on a long journey in two weeks and asks if Michel would keep him company the night before the departure. Michel agrees and despite Marceline's poor health, he leaves her side to be with Mélanque. When Michel returns home, Dr. Tr— reveals that Marceline had a miscarriage. She grows weaker over the following weeks and begins to cough up blood because she caught tuberculosis from Michel. He feels disgusted and considers her a "tainted thing."

Analysis

Michel's interactions with Mélanque spur his mental transformation and corruption. Michel believes that Mélanque's personal philosophy "laid bare my own mind." This philosophy is marked by living in the present and having no attachments to people or things. Although he argues with himself, he cannot deny that he believes the same things as Mélanque. These ideas conflict directly with Michel's actions during the previous few months. These actions include hosting parties for acquaintances, preparing for a baby, and furnishing his and Marceline's apartment with luxurious goods.

Mélanque's retrieval of Marceline's scissors reveals the extent of Michel's transformation. The scissors were once beautiful and ornate but have become rusted and twisted. They are a visual metaphor for what has occurred to Michel's mind in the preceding year. After hearing the story of the theft from Moktir, Mélanque knows that something fundamental has changed within his friend.

Marceline's miscarriage brings Michel immense sadness, and he dedicates himself to care for her in the following weeks. However, her catching tuberculosis reawakens Michel's disgust with sickness and physical weakness. He uses these emotions to inflict emotional trauma on Marceline by claiming that God had no part in his recovery. He implies that her praying for herself is futile. Although Michel realizes that he hurt his wife, he does not apologize. His temperament only becomes darker as he sees something he hates every time he looks at Marceline.

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