Top positive review
36 people found this helpful
Self-truth at any Cost
on 7 October 2000
The Immoralist is straightforward in language and easy to read, but more complicated, more complex are its themes: Man's sense of morality towards society, family, himself. What happens when man's values conflict with those of society's? Whose interests should be served? Gide explores these themes through one man's odyssey of self-discovery. The protagonist is the learned and conflicted Michel who yearns for something more than the stable, predictable, familiar life he has always known, but no longer finds tolerable. It is after a life-threatening bout of tuberculosis that these feelings rise to the surface, intensify, and are more keenly felt.
This hunger, still unidentified, takes him on a journey, both literal and figurative, where his search for self-awareness, or self-truth, carries him to distant and exotic locales. New experiences and mysterious encounters give way to a new aestheticism in which weakness, constraint, and life's banalities play no role. Heightened senses, unsuppressed impulses erode age-old human values that were once accepted blindly.
A life less checked, though, can have consequences, as is the case for Michel, and for so many others like him. As Michel becomes stronger, his wife becomes weaker. Indeed, society becomes weaker. How can the newly strong fail to quash the weak in their path? The question one must ask, then, and Gide does, is whether a life without restraint has value. Is there something admirable in the old adage, "To thine own self be true"?
One of the novel's most inspired moments is found in its ending. Without giving anything away, it is the last passage, after the reader has come full-circle, where Michel's journey seemingly ends. Will Michel embrace his new truth? The reader is left to wonder. The Immoralist is told in narrative, in Michel's own voice. It is self-confessional literature at its highest, and should be read by anyone who reads to think and be moved.