Monday, September 26, 2011

Remembrance of Things Past Essay

Essay on "Remembrance of Things Past"

Marcel Proust is considered by many to be the greatest French novelist of the twentieth century. He discovered a world through his creative exploration of his memory. Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871 to a wealthy middle-class Parisian family. His father was a well-known doctor and his mother was a highly educated woman. Marcel was deeply devoted to his mother (Maynard, 2675).

Remembrance of Things Past is a story Proust wrote based on his own childhood. The first part of Remembrance of Thins Past is the Swann's Way Overture. This introduction immediately takes us into the intense and slightly strange world of the narrator. Everything is expressed as a reminiscence of the past. These thoughts are not presented in chronological order, but instead as the memories occur to the narrator, Marcel. Very little actually happens in this section. Instead, most of the section is taken up with Marcel's described memories and his thoughts and reflections about the people he meets and the things that happen to him.

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Marcel tells the story of his childhood in the French countryside from the perspective of his old age, as he looks back on his youth. As a child, he is somewhat sickly and nervous, always needing the company of his mother. Marcel remembers that whenever he visited his grandparent's house in the French village of Combray, his insomnia would keep him up all night long. In order to make him feel better, the young Marcel is given a lantern which projects pictures from children's stories onto his bedroom walls. Marcel begins to fear bedtime more because he now cannot recognize his room. His only source of comfort is the goodnight kiss his mother gives him each night, even though he knows that his father disapproves of this ritual and that his mother secretly hopes that he will grow out of it. Marcel comes to depend on these kisses to comfort and calm him.

One night, when Marcel's father does not let him kiss his mother on the cheek, Marcel decides to revolt. He has Francoise (the maid) take his mother, who is entertaining a family friend Swann, a note begging her to come see him in his room. At first his mother refuses, but once Swann has gone and she sees how miserable Marcel is, she decides to spend the night in his room. He is shocked when his father urges her to stay in Marcel's room. Even though Marcel feels victorious at first, he soon realizes that winning his mother's presence provided his family with acknowledgment that he suffers from a nervous ailment. His guilt makes him cry even more and his mother had to struggle to keep back her own tears. To calm Marcel's nerves, his mother offers to read him a book "Look, since you can't sleep, and Mamma can't either, we mustn't go on in this stupid way; we must do something; I'll get one of your books" (Proust, 2707).

An important theme emerges in this section which is Marcel's emotional attitude toward his mother. Marcel looks to her for guidance, sympathy, and love, but when he receives these comforts, he feels guilty about not being more independent. He experiences this guilt by envisioning the effects that his need for his mother has on her. As Proust writes, "I ought to have been happy; I was not. It struck me that my mother had just made a first concession which must have been painful to her" (2706). As a result, their relationship is tainted by Marcel's belief that he is always causing her some sort of grief.

Marcel's desire for his mother's goodnight kiss anticipates one of the novel's major themes - the romantic desire of men for women. Marcel's desire for his mother is not strictly romantic, but it does suggest that men's desire for women is a key part of their lives. Often times the reason for this desire is to gain approval and affection from their beloved. Marcel feels at ease when he is in the presence of his mother.

In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust used his childhood in order to show how his youth affected the rest of his life. His thoughts are displayed as memories through the narrators mind. Marcel's longing for comfort and consolation from his mother occupy much of the story. When Marcel finally gets what he wants, he is overcome by guilt and his lack of independence.

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