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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Individu et la societe dans l'oeuvre litteraire de Jacques Godbout Boksenbaum, Eve Gila

Abstract

Short but productive, Jacques Godbout's career has been diverse: professor of literature, Godbout is also a film writer and director, journalist, novelist, poet, and painter. His literary production consisting of poetry and novels is the object of the present study. This thesis does not aim at discussing all the aspects of Godbout's literary achievement, but rather at examining the themes that deal primarily with the relations between the individual and his social milieu, thereby assessing Godbout's positive social contribution to this predominant theme in contemporary French-Canadian literature. Exposing various social problems of this century, Godbout seeks to resolve the lack of communication between the individual and the society in which he lives, particularly in the contemporary French-Canadian context. This thesis is divided in two chapters. The first chapter analyses the relations between the individual and the society in which he lives as it is presented in Godbout's poetry; the second chapter examines these relations in particular in the novels. In each chapter, the social problems and the reaction of the individual to his social milieu are discussed. The novels are studied chronologically because they expose, in my opinion, a progress from pessimism to optimism in life. In the poetry, society is depicted as being oppressive. External politics of a government resulting in war force soldiers to risk their life to assure the security of their nation and their families. Internal politics in the form of dictatorships constrain the citizens of a country to obey the decisions of a dictator whose principal goal is the accomplishment of his own personal ambitions.. Christianity as practiced by religious leaders is hypocritical. And in civil judiciary institutions, lawyers manipulate judges and juries unscrupulously. Finally, by mistreating their children, parents cause psychological inhibitions and deformation of character. The individual exposed to these social conditions becomes, as presented in Godbout's poetry, consciously or unconsciously hypocritical, afraid and prejudiced. Repressed emotionally and spiritually, he succumbs to mental lethargy. He becomes passive and discouraged. Gradually, he hardens and presents a facade of indifference towards other people. He loses his sens of identity. To survive happily, Godbout seems to suggest, the individual must strive to live harmoniously with his society enforcing his own individuality. In Godbout's three novels, a progress from pessimism to optimism is expressed towards life: the individual subjected to social tensions, finally learns to reconcile himself to society and to become self-sufficient. The Aquarium presents a group of people subjected to the rigorous political domination of a government and a rigidly structured society. They suffer the hardships of a restricted material and geographic environment and the discomforts of an oppressive climate. Spiritual decay gradually invades their life. The flight of the narrator and his mistress from this social milieu marks the first stage in the development of the individual. In the Couteau sur la table, an incoherent and tumultuous society reflects the instability of the two principal personnages who revolt against their society, the second stage in the progress of the individual towards self-possession and self-assertion. A lack of equilibrium between the social classes, a tension between different nationalities, a political antagonism against English and Americans, a criticism of the army, the police and the church, parallel the lack of communication between Patricia and the narrator and their irresponsible attitude towards life. Finally, in Salut Galarneau, the final stage of the evolution of the individual is achieved by Francois, the principal character, who learns to adjust to society without being passively modified by it. The criticism of the politics of the Americans, of the French-English conflict in Canada, of education, of outmoded divorce laws, of the economic gap between the social classes mirror Francois initial instability. By persevering to affirm himself in his society despite successive failures, Francois succeeds in making a way for himself in life. Thematically, the literacy works of Godbout present, on balance, a positive and constructive social approach towards life.

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