The Immoralist | Study Guide

André Gide

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The Immoralist | Quotes

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1.

Are we simply to condemn him, rejecting as use capacities which give evidence of such cruelty?


The unnamed friend, To Monsieur D.R., Président Du Conseil

The unnamed friend at the beginning of The Immoralist is shocked by the tale Michel told him and two other mutual friends. The question he poses to the Président Du Conseil displays inner turmoil. He knows that Michel committed unimaginable cruelty toward Marceline and others in the previous three years. However, Michel is still his friend and he wonders if there is some other option that allows Michel to move forward with his life.

2.

The capacity to get free is nothing; the capacity to be free, that is the task.


Michel, Part 1, Section 1

Michel reveals the main lesson the past three years has taught him. To him the mental transformation he underwent over three years was an easy process. He abandoned a life of the mind for a life of the body and one defined by sensual pleasure. However, doing so required immense sacrifice. "To be free" Michel had to destroy his relationship with his wife even though he loved her greatly.

3.

I prepared for war.


Michel, Part 1, Section 2

Michel faces the greatest challenge of his life when he contracts tuberculosis on his honeymoon. The disease brings him to the point of death. In a turning point, he resolves to cure himself by both sheer force of will and an improved diet. However, he neglects to recognize how much his wife helped him during his convalescence. He believes that only he was responsible.

4.

I remember ... Was this the morning I was to be born at last?


Michel, Part 1, Section 3

The theme of rebirth runs throughout Michel's journey in The Immoralist. During his recovery from tuberculosis, Michel realizes that he has the strength to take walks by himself. This knowledge astounds and encourages him. He soaks in the natural world's sights and sounds which he had ignored as a younger man studying history with his father. The emotions stirring within Michel make him realize that he had neglected pleasure his entire life, and he embraces it more and more as the story progresses.

5.

To tell the truth, they frightened me.


Michel, Part 1, Section 4

As Michel recovers from tuberculosis, Marceline brings many sickly and hurt Arab children to their hotel room. She wants to help these children. These actions imply that one of her main traits is a desire to help others much as she does for Michel. However, seeing injury and sickness frightens Michel. He associates them with his own journey to recovery. His fear implies that he believes that the sick and injured children are a bad omen and might cause him to relapse.

6.

Why? To affirm that I was alive and to find it good to be alive.


Michel, Part 1, Section 5

Michel realizes that even if he recovers fully, there will come a day when age or sickness will prevent him from doing the simple act of raising his hands to his face. Performing this simple action brings him great pleasure and acts as an affirmation to live in the moment. Although a seemingly noble state of mind, it lays the groundwork for the moral decay he undergoes throughout the remainder of The Immoralist.

7.

I judged myself not yet strong, but capable of strength, harmonious, sensual, almost beautiful.


Michel, Part 1, Section 6

In Italy Michel finds a secluded ocean spring where he sunbathes nude for several days. He does so because he feels disgusted with his pale body. On the final day, Michel jumps into the frigid spring before rubbing his body with mint leaves. The water's shock and mint's pleasant smell give him hope that he can improve his body which he had neglected up to this point.

8.

It was essential that she not interfere with my rebirth.


Michel, Part 1, Section 7

Although Michel shows nothing but affection toward Marceline, he realizes that her Catholic upbringing would force her to disapprove of his mental transformation. Therefore, he decides to hide this new part of himself away from her. This decision represents the first act of cruelty that leads toward their relationship's eventual destruction.

9.

Nothing thwarts happiness so much as the memory of happiness.


Michel, Part 1, Section 8

Michel recalls the first time he made love to Marceline. It was a wonderful experience, but Michel knows that in the coming years he will try to attain that moment of joy in their relationship only to fail. Whether right or wrong, Michel's belief contributes to the friction between him and Marceline later in the story.

10.

I did my best to convince myself there was a lesson to be read in Athalaric's hideous death.


Michel, Part 1, Section 9

Before traveling to a historical site in Italy, Michel reads up on Athalaric (516–534) who became king of the Ostrogoths when he was only 10 years old. The Ostrogoths were a Germanic people. Athalaric spurned his people's traditions and adopted a pleasure-seeking lifestyle. This way of life led to his early death at age 18. Michel realizes that living like Athalaric leads to ruin. However, he follows the same path throughout The Immoralist because he cannot escape its allure.

11.

Already I sensed, close to our happiness, something beside happiness, which certainly stained my love, but as the autumn stains.


Michel, Part 2, Section 1

As Marceline's pregnancy progresses, Michel notices her demeanor change slightly as she becomes aware of the child growing inside her. He realizes that even if she remains a loving wife, she will no longer be the same person with whom he fell in love. This realization "stains" the love Michel has for his wife. This feeling reflects his new selfishness because he does not consider his wife's feelings or the love he should have for his unborn child.

12.

If there's one thing I detest it's a man of principles.


Michel, Part 2, Section 2

While conversing with Mélanque, Michel reveals that men who live by society's principles are inauthentic because they hide their true selves from others. Michel's mental transformation spurs him to adopt a new personality and causes him to come into conflict with respectable members of society. This conflict extends to the relationship he has with Marceline.

13.

With what passion I continued poaching!


Michel, Part 2, Section 3

After he catches Bocage's younger son Alcide poaching on his property, Michel makes a deal with the boy to continue poaching even though the profits go to the degenerate Heurtrevent. Michel believes that his decision will let him learn more about Heurtevent and his depravity. Michel joins Alcide in poaching because breaking the law thrills him and allows him to embrace his true nature.

14.

I understand your doctrine. It may be beautiful ... but it eliminates the weak.


Marceline, Part 3

As Marceline is dying of tuberculosis, she reveals to Michel that she knows about his transformation. She considers it cruel because it leaves no place in the world for the physically weak like her. Michel's agreement with her assessment causes her immense emotional pain and leads her to draw away from him emotionally. She continues to love him up until her dying day despite Michel's treatment of her.

15.

Pebbles that I leave in the shade ... then I hold them ... in the palm of my hand, until the soothing coolness they've borrowed is ... used up.


Michel, Part 3

Michel's story about the pebbles reveals the extent of his depravity. When a pebble loses its coolness, he discards it without a second thought. He did the same with his wife. He greedily accepted her love yet gave nothing back. The disease may have killed her body but his cruelty killed her spirit and faith. The fact that Michel continues this behavior with pebbles implies that the last three years have taught him nothing and that he will continue to make the same mistakes in the future.

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