The Immoralist | Study Guide

André Gide

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The Immoralist | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part One

The Immoralist is Michel's narrative confession of his life's events between ages 24 and 27. He is the story's protagonist. His father raised him after his mother's death when he was 15 years old. Michel's father trains him as a historian. He marries the devout Marceline in Paris, France, sometime in the 1890s. The newlyweds set out on their honeymoon to French Algeria but Michel falls ill with tuberculosis during the trip. He is on the brink of death when they arrive in Biskra, a French-Algerian winter holiday destination.

Marceline nurses Michel back to health over the following weeks, and he becomes obsessed with health. He enjoys the companionship of young Arab boys Marceline brings to keep him company because they are young and healthy. One of the boys whose name is Moktir becomes Michel's favorite when he steals a pair of Marceline's scissors.

Michel gains a new appreciation for his physical body as he becomes physically stronger. His desire to attain sensual pleasure only grows when he and Marceline return to France by traveling through Italy. Michel sunbathes on Italy's Amalfi Coast and resolves to keep his mental transformation a secret from his wife. He also realizes that he has lost his passion for history and only continues studying it because it is his profession.

Part Two

Michel and Marceline briefly settle down on Michel's family farm in France's Normandy region. Michel works with the caretaker Bocage and his son Charles to improve the farm. The stay allows Michel to manage the farm and prepare history lectures he will deliver in Paris. Marceline reveals she is pregnant. Michel is happy but fears that a baby will taint the happiness between them.

Michel's peers review his lectures poorly in Paris, and he finds consolation in speaking to Mélanque who is an old friend. Mélanque is a fellow historical researcher who has few personal attachments. He encourages Michel to cast off respectability and continue his mental transformation. One evening as Michel is spending time with Mélanque, Marceline has a miscarriage and starts showing symptoms of tuberculosis. Michel decides to take her back to his farm to recover.

On the farm Michel's degeneracy evolves into admiring his tenants' worst qualities. After catching his caretaker Bocage's younger son Alcide poaching game on his property, Michel goes into business with him even though poaching is illegal. Other people learn of the plan which leads to Bocage beating Alcide. Seeing the effects of his actions and Marceline's worsening health prompts Michel to sell the farm and take his wife to a warmer climate.

Part Three

Michel and Marceline spend the winter in the Swiss Alps before progressing through the Italian countryside. He cares for her during the day. However, he slips out at night to commit immoral acts. The couple cross the Mediterranean Sea and travel to Biskra by carriage. Michel believes that Marceline will improve if they stay in the same city where he recovered. Marceline's health continues to worsen, and she coughs up a tremendous amount of blood one night after Michel returns from sleeping with a prostitute.

Marceline dies during the trip, and Michel buries her in a Biskra garden she loved during his recovery. Michel settles in Sidi Bel Abbes, a city in French Algeria. He writes to three close friends who attended his wedding two-and-a-half years prior. They arrive and Michel spends the entire night telling them the preceding story after the group enjoys a modest dinner.

The Immoralist Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Michel and Marceline marry in France.

Rising Action

2 Michel contracts tuberculosis during the honeymoon.

3 Michel and Marceline spend many months in Biskra, Algeria.

4 Michel embraces sensual pleasure during their trip home.

5 Marceline becomes pregnant.

6 Michel's mental change influences how he treats others.

7 Michel and Marceline move to Paris for his work.

8 Michel reconnects with his old friend Mélanque.


9 Marceline has a miscarriage.

Falling Action

10 Michel takes Marceline to his family's farm in Normandy.

11 Marceline dies of tuberculosis in French Algeria.


12 Michel tells the novel's story to friends who visit him.

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