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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The structure of the tropism : a study of Les fruits d'or of Nathalie Sarraute Blenkinsop, Padraig John


With her very first book Nathalie Sarraute insisted upon the importance of the tropism. Though most critics acknowledge its importance, only one has used it as a key to his study. This thesis proposes that the tropism is central to the structure of Sarraute’s work and specifically to that of Les Fruits d'Or. The study presupposes that the text of the novel is the ultimate, objective source of evidence. Following the suggestion of a number of French structuralist critics, a distinction is drawn between narrative and fiction, and the elements of each of these aspects of the novel are examined. In Chapter 1, "Narrative,” are studied Narrative Point of View, Narrative Structure, and Style; in Chapter 2, "Aspects of the Fiction," appear the subsections, Plot, Character, Space, and Time. Because of the nature of Les Fruits d'Or a further chapter was needed to explore the content of the work, so that Chapter 3, "Thematic Structure," deals with the principal themes and their interrelationship. The word "tropism" describes the process of adaptation of an organism to its environment. Sarraute uses it to explore the interior movements which her characters experience in responding to events. Thus we find that the external event becomes no more than a catalyst to release those sensations which form the substance of the work. The narrative point of view enables the reader to experience the sensation simultaneously with the character, while the structure reveals a cyclical pattern of conflict and harmony corresponding to that of the tropism. In the style we find both the attempt to create immediacy of dialogue and a language appropriate to the expression of sensation. With the vast expansion of the narrative, the fictional aspects of Les Fruits d'Or become subsidiary. The plot is a skeleton upon which to mould the flesh of the narrative, but it conforms, with its pattern of action and reaction, to the tropism. The characters lose fictional individuality and become extensions of a uniform psychology, which is perceived in terms of stimulus and response. Space and time have lost almost all fictional existence and have become psychological determinants accounting for the pervading sense of enclosure and of mechanical recurrence within the vast, new space-time of the tropistic movements. The "mise en abime" at the centre of Les Fruits d'Or creates a triple level of meaning which is illustrated in three themes. The first, "Art,” corresponds to the plot and describes satirically the cyclical rise and decline of a novel. At the second level, "Appearance and Reality” illustrates the conflict, central to the work, between the visible and the felt, the hard and the soft. The theme, "Individual and Society," reveals the common aspiration for a harmony which is eternally elusive. Relating these themes we find, once again, the pattern of the tropism, a cyclical movement of stimulus and response in which appear the basic rhythms of conflict and re-integration. Our concentration upon the structure of the tropism leads, in conclusion, to the high-lighting of certain aspects of Sarraute's work. The tropism is both a vision of man's inner existence and a vehicle for its expression. It also presents, however, a pessimistic and deterministic view of the world. Demonic imagery predominates but the apocalyptic is seen as a mere sham. Authenticity is never more than a flickering hope. The tropism is common to all Sarraute's work, and her exploration of man's psychological depths is not unique in literature. Her most important contribution to the novel lies in her vision of the inner world as man's true realm of action and in her provision of access to that world by means of the tropism.

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