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Functional rhetoric in Jean Genet : a story of verbal manipulation in Les Negres and Le Balcon Courtney de Broux, Peggy


Among twentieth-century French playwrights, Jean Genet is one of the more elusive. His major plays, Le Balcon, Les Negres and Les Paravents, have elicited much literary criticism. However, seldom have critics closely examined the grammatical function of language in Genet's dramatic dialogue. This study attempts to focus upon one particular type of character, discovered through use of language, found in two of Genet's major plays, Les Negres and Le Balcon. It is an assessment of the manipulating character who uses certain rhetorical devices while attempting persuasion of another character. The method used borrows from Peter France's book, Racine's Rhetoric (1965)»an analysis of language used in seventeenth-century theatre. France's study examines persuasive rhetoric under two different rubrics: persuasive language in which speakers express overt emotions and covert emotions. We are limiting this study to that dialogue in Jean Genet's drama which reveals emotions, leaving to another study its complementary side. Rhetorical devices are here further confined to three groups only: imperatives, exhortations and insults. The study searches Genet's dramatic dialogue for effective uses of these rhetorical devices. The study examines such functional rhetoric in the two plays wherein manipulating characters are the most apparent, although similar techniques appeared earlier in Genet's shorter works, Haute surveillance and Les Bonnes. Role-playing, the most obvious in Les Negres, is found to be closely associated with attempted manipulation. Le Balcon is next studied, as the persuading characters are less obvious. The study finds that certain characters in Les Negres and Le Balcon attempt--and at times effectively manage--persuasion of other characters by use of imperatives, exhortations and insults. Imperatives are most often used to define a role, to direct role-playing or to define a group goal. Archibald and La Reine use imperatives for these purposes in Les Negres, as does Mme Irma in Le Balcon. We also watch L'Envoye1 per-saude Irma to assume the role of La Reine. Other manipulators in Le Balcon are Les Trois Photographes, who define roles for L'Eveque, Le Juge and Le GeSnSral. We find that FelicitS employs exhortation in order to instill a sense of pride in les negres. We also find that some exhortations--when single words or negatives—are ineffectual admonishment. Vertu attempts to sway Village's narrative in Les Negres, but with negative results. In Le Balcon, effective exhortationists are Irma, who manages to frighten Carmen into remaining within le Grand Balcon, and Roger, who attempts to keep Chantal from becoming the figure-head for the insurrection. Irma uses the repeated imperative—clear exhortation--and succeeds: Carmen remains. Roger uses the less forceful exhortation—admonishment--and Chantal eludes him. Even though the admonishing exhortation fails to sway its interlocutor, we find its use reveals a character's psychological motivation. The third rhetorical device, insult, is seen to operate effectively in Les Negres, as the "hatred of white" is an integral part of the play-within- the-play. There is no equivalent 'theme in Le Balcon; thus, the use of insult there is reduced to sparse name-calling. In so examining specific dialogue, the study adds depth to some of the rather puppet-like characters in two of Jean Genet's dramas, adding one facet to existing psychological analysis. This type of textual examination of dialogue could be rewarding in a future study of its alternate side: dialogue which conceals the emotions. In addition, an evolution may be discovered by examining dialogue in Genet's last play, Les Paravents, where the manipulating character seems to go underground, exchanging role-playing for a more straight-forward type of characterization.

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