The Immoralist | Study Guide

André Gide

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The Immoralist | Themes


Obsession with Health

Throughout his recovery from tuberculosis in Biskra, Michel becomes enthralled by young Arab boys' health. His obsession stems from his desire to recover. He meets these boys when Marceline brings them to keep him company during his recovery. Seeing their youth and health makes Michel obsessed with becoming well and improving his body. He also becomes attracted to both traits.

In the novel's conclusion, author André Gide implies that Michel's attraction has become sexual. When Michel speaks of a female prostitute that visits him, he says that "each time I see her she laughs and claims I prefer the boy to her."

Spiritual Rebirth and Degradation

Almost dying from tuberculosis prompts Michel to reevaluate his morals, profession, and relationships with other people. He decides to live a life defined by sensual pleasure and satisfying his new, evolving desires. His rebirth takes some innocent forms such as enjoying sex with his wife and paying attention to the natural world. However, his obsessions take him in immoral directions. He is sexually attracted to young boys. He also visits prostitutes, steals, and betrays other people's trust and love.

The Inability to Reclaim the Past

When he is nearing the end of his recovery in Biskra, Michel realizes, "Nothing thwarts happiness so much as the memory of happiness." He confirms this belief while speaking to Mélanque later in the novel. However, a lingering hope remains when he takes Marceline back to French Algeria as she suffers from tuberculosis. He erroneously thinks that staying in Biskra will lead to her recovery as it did for him two years prior. However, her death and seeing the previously young Arab boys corrupted by time confirms that the past and memories cause only pain.

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