The Anecdote of the Scissors in L’Immoraliste

In André Gide’s L’Immoraliste, I was quite struck by the apparently mundane and trivial anecdote of the scissors. Even though that story may seem quite accidental it might, actually, reveal something important about Michel’s “transformation” and its alleged “immorality.” At the end of the third chapter of the first part of the novel, while Michel is still recovering from his tuberculosis in Algeria, he witnesses through a mirror (oh so symbolical) the little Moktir stealing a small pair of scissors belonging to Marceline, Michel’s wife. Interestingly, Michel does not get angry at all: on the contrary he feels delight (Je ne parvins pas à me prouver que le sentiment qui m’emplit alors fût autre chose que de l’amusement, de la joie). It is probably at that precise moment that Michel acknowledges consciously that he derives pleasure and delight from immorality (see Michel’s fascination for the Heurtevent family in the second part of the book). When the couple is back in Paris, Ménalque wants to talk to Michel after the latter did his largely misunderstood course lesson. Michel, who now seems to embrace his libertine tendencies, kisses him in front of everybody. Ménalque is an ambivalent character; he tells Michel that, basically, at first he was not interested in Michel at all for he thought the latter was just a sad an uninteresting person. However, Ménalque also travelled in Algeria and he stopped by Biskra where Michel and Marceline stayed for a little while. Ménalque knows about Michel’s illness, namely he knows about his tuberculosis and his inclination for the company of children (Michel’s pederasty). He knows also about the anecdote of the pair of scissors for he met Moktir who “told him everything.” I think the symbol of the scissors may be quite important here. Furthermore, one recalls how the stop to the barbershop and Michel’s new haircut are crucial steps in the construction of Michel’s nouvel être (new being) in the beginning of the novel. Of course a very tempting and quite Freudian interpretation would link the scissors with castration (oh so nasty): as long as Michel remains married to Marceline who, however, seems to be the most charming woman, he feels sort of stuck and cannot give free rein to his libertine tendencies. One recalls indeed that Michel, as he says in the beginning, has married Marceline to please his father (Je connaissais très peu ma femme et pensais, sans en trop souffrir, qu’elle ne me connaissait pas advantage. Je l’avais épousée sans amour, beaucoup pour complaire à mon père, qui, mourant, s’inquiétait de me laisser seul). That is probably the reason why Michel let his wife die egoistically and in a very inhuman and immoral manner at the end of the book, even though he genuinely loved her. -R.C.

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Filed under Week 10 Reviews: André Gide, The Immoralist

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