The Immoralist | Study Guide

André Gide

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The Immoralist | Part 3 | Summary

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Summary

Michel and Marceline spend the winter in the Swiss Alps. The weather sickens Marceline, and she continues to cough up blood. Michel's mental degradation continues. He can no longer stand any culture or person that seems honest. This revulsion prompts him to leave Switzerland early with Marceline. They continue on to Italy where Michel spends most of his fortune making Marceline comfortable. Marceline confesses that she hates Michel's new philosophy because it leaves no place for physically weak people like her. He agrees with her assessment but regrets it immediately.

During the Italian spring, Michel attempts to cheer Marceline up by buying her flowers. However, they sicken her. Michel infers that her reaction means that she knows she will die. At night as Marceline sleeps, Michel goes out to commit immoral acts. These acts evolve into kissing young boys in broad daylight. Michel finds himself fantasizing about the freedom he will have after Marceline dies.

Michel and Marceline continue their trip to North Africa. They arrive in Biskra where Michel is devastated to see how both age and respectability have tainted the young boys he met two springs prior. Michel hires Moktir as their traveling companion. One night Michel leaves Marceline's side to sleep with a prostitute. He returns to find her covered in blood she coughed up. Marceline dies soon after and Michel buries her in the Biskra suburb of El Kantara.

Michel wonders what life has in store for him. He admits to his friends that in the last few months he has come to enjoy the company of prostitutes and young boys. His comments suggest that he has embraced pedophilia.

Analysis

Michel's psyche is in constant conflict throughout Part 3. Part of him clings to the desperate hope that traveling to Biskra will help Marceline recover as he did two years prior. However, he cannot help but satisfy his new desires and fantasize about the levels of debauchery he can attain after Marceline is dead. Marceline is well aware of what is happening with her husband even though she is dying. The mental strain Michel's transformation puts on her causes her to lose her faith in God. She expresses her lack of belief by refusing the rosary Michel hands her shortly after he returns from visiting a prostitute.

Near The Immoralist's conclusion, author André Gide adds an additional paragraph from the letter that introduces the novel. The unnamed friend's hesitation and weariness reflect the emotions that Gide hoped to instill in readers. Like Michel's friends, readers have become "accomplices" to Michel's many sins and transgressions. The paragraph also reaffirms the friend's earlier uncertainty about whether Michel could rejoin French society and redeem himself.

Michel's story about the small white stones alludes to his relationship with Marceline and his present disposition. He lays a collection of white stones in the shade to become cool enough to hold. When their coolness fades, he casts them aside. This simple action reflects how he abandoned Marceline emotionally after she helped him recover from tuberculosis. He no longer had any use for her and went looking for new people and a new life.

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