UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

La condition masculine dans Le rouge et le noir Aerts, Gilles


In this day and age of women's liberation, we constantly hear about the victimization of women and their efforts to free themselves from the domination of men. We all, men and women, seem to take for granted that man is by nature an aggressive individual, the oppressor, that violence is an inborn trait in him, an instinct, or a force released to ease frustrations. The Freudian theories have of course largely contributed to implant those ideas in our minds. Those theories however are now being challenged more and more by the social learning theorists and justly so, as it appears. Indeed, when we read Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir, we are struck at first by the pervasive violence. Violence is not only physical, it may take many forms and subtle guises - mental, psychological, verbal, etc. In fact, pressure, tension are ubiquitous in the novel. Our second realization is that not only women are being victimized: men are oppressed and perhaps more generally so. We then come to face the evidence that, because of its particular structure, society is the oppressor. The traditional society of Western civilization is a hierarchical one, based on inequality and power. In such a system, violence has a place and a function. It seems to us that such was the situation in Stendhal's society and in the portrait of it that he painted for us in Le Rouge et le Noir. Our method of investigation has been as follows: our starting point in Chapter 1 is to explain why man in Le Rouge seems to be a victim, as well as a perpetrator, of violence. In the light of findings from modern research in psychology, as well as of socio-economical, historical and political studies, we first examine violence and how it affects the nature of man, "molds" him, so to speak. We look at its causes and implications, how it intensifies, and why men seem to be more violent than women in the novel. We then turn to the social context in which man is supposed to function and study the structure of power as Stendhal described it in Le Rouge et le Noir. We also look at the role of women in that male-dominated society and try to show how men and women reinforce each other in their traditional and stereotyped roles, increasing in the process the communication gap between the sexes. Having thus described the structure of power according to Stendhal, we study in our second chapter the status of man at each level of this hierarchy. This leads us to examine all the male characters in the novel through a systematic survey of the nobility, the clergy and finally the commoners. This detailed examination brings us to a conclusion that seems to be twofold. We discover that man, at whatever level in the hierarchy, is both important, indeed indispensable, as a member of a supporting group, while totally unimportant and even vulnerable, as an individual. In our third and final chapter, we discuss in detail three male characters who embody three different stages in the evolution of man in Stendhal's society: Valenod, M. de Renal, and of course Julien Sorel himself. In our conclusion, we ask ourselves the question: what kind of a message does Stendhal leave us at the close of his novel or, if there is no direct message to the readers, what kind of reaction does Le Rouge et le Noir bring forth in us? Stendhal, in our view, first seems to show us that in order to "succeed" in society, men (and women, for that matter), have to either be without, or abandon all moral principles because the acquisition and use of power must necessarily e at the expense of other people. On the other hand, with Julien Sorel, we see a man who first tries to achieve power without renouncing his own beliefs and must therefore wear a mask, conceal his true nature. The self-imposed necessity of playing a part which does not correspond to his real personality and profound aspirations almost destroys him. At the last however, when about to lose his life, Julien is saved by Stendhal who makes him abandon his sex role. No longer conditioned by a society which rejected and condemned him, Julien becomes finally free to be himself and achieve a balance between the mind and the heart, intelligence and sensibility. And so, since Stendhal did not apparently believe in another life after death, it seems to the reader that the author challenges all men of good will to tear off here and now their stereotyped masks of superiority which in fact enslave them in order to find equality, freedom, love and happiness.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.