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After reflecting on the powerful emotion, imagery, themes, and language of The Lover, I became convinced of several elements of the text that must have been experienced by the author.  I was not at all surprised to find through the reading of the biography of Marguerite Duras that The Lover reflects her own life, emotions, and experiences.  It is with a depth not easily matched that the story of young girl’s life in French Indochina is portrayed.  A combination of themes, which come to light in the process of recollection, reveal ideas that are present in us all.   The narrator, who recounts the story of her relationships with her family members and the one memory that takes precedence over every other moment in her life, explains a past filled with pain, fear, love, and hate with vivid and unequaled language.

By describing her true love for two individuals, her mother and the Chinese millionaire she began an unforgettable  affair with when she was fifteen and a half, the narrator shows the reader how certain events and emotions lead her to her current state.  Through her unrequited love for her mother, who she accounts as never being happy and bringing much sadness into the lives of her and two brothers after the death of their father, the author realizes that love and hate can coexist.  The life of poverty and uncertainty the family leads due to the mother’s inadequacies causes the author to decide that there came a point when her deep love for her mother became pity and remorse for things she had no control over.  When she could no longer feel sorry, she felt hatred, and then numbness.  In unveiling her feelings for the Chinese man who altered her existence, she shows the reader that even with a most beloved person, she could not escape pain, fear, and premature aging. Being with him made her realize she had never felt happiness.

In her relationships with her family and the man she chose as a lover, the young girl is destined to remain unfulfilled. The girl attributes her ‘ravaged’ physical appearance at a young age to prematurely experiencing a heartache and love that would last ‘unto death.’  Without a family by her side for support, the girl becomes the lover of a man she can never be with.  The couple must combat intolerance and societal expectations that disallow their races, economic statuses, or ages to come together in marriage.

By combining her own conceptions of the way humans understand time, her own body decaying, and the wisdom that shocked her into permanent sadness, the author is able to convey memories from different points of view. The girl attributes her ‘ravaged’ physical appearance at a young age to prematurely experiencing a heartache and love that would last ‘unto death.’  She is also plagued by her mother’s discontent and a family where the members tried to avoid any real knowledge of each other’s struggles.  Although most of the account is told in the first person, sometimes, the author changes to a third person perspective.  The changes are most prevalent in her recollections of time spent with the man, perhaps confirming a need for her to analyze her past from an outside perspective.

The pain and fear the girl experiences may have altered the way she perceives the past. Her emotions and memories affect how she thinks she felt and what she knows in the present.  Although she says she loved her family, she notes that they are dead.  “Now I don’t love them anymore.  I don’t remember if I ever did.”  It is difficult for her to know the truth, because she says she can only really recall a single image from her past. The memory that dominates her thoughts is of the day she met the Chinese man. The clothing, weather, and scenes she associates with him add to her ideas about incomparable feelings for him. But the reader is forced to wonder if the memory of the man and its perfection are due to impassioned recollection, as opposed to what occurred in reality.

There is a lingering mystery and raw power the reader detects in this story.  The language the author uses to tell about the most important instances in her life leave the reader feeling similar to the author: saddened, empty, confused.  Yet, in the end it seems as though this is fitting.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For more information:

Read: Marguerite Duras: The North China Lover: A Novel, The Sea Wall

Marguerite Duras: A Life by Laura Adler

Film: The Lover (1992), The Sea Wall (2008)