UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Determinisme et liberte : une etude des rapports entre les dieux et les hommes dans les pieces d'influence grecque de Cocteau et de Sartre. Berthiaume, Therese Theriault


The object of this thesis is to examine the two opposite poles of human freedom, that is, determinism and total freedom, as found in the plays of Cocteau and Sartre that have been influenced by Greek drama. These contemporary playwrights however have set aside the religious aspect of ancient tragedy to concentrate on the analysis of the human condition. Cocteau, similar to Sophocles, is conscious of fate controlling human destiny. Since Cocteau is unable to alter its course, he accepts it; his plays, Antigone (1922), Oedipe-Roi (1925), Orphée (1926) and La Machine Infernale (1934), all embody such an attitude, thereby denoting freedom as an illusion. In the first chapter, Antigone, Orpheus and Oedipus are analysed as pawns of the cruel gods; as mere mortals, at the mercy of the Heavens, they cannot control their destiny. In the second chapter, emphasis is placed on man himself; we have endeavoured to show to what extent he is physically and psychologically determined and how he contains the seed of his own perdition. Cocteau's originality lies in the presentation of determinism through imagery. In La Machine Infernale, his most important play, destiny becomes a machine geared to destroy man caught in a network from which he cannot extricate himself. Such a person is Oedipus, controlled by both outer and inner forces. The outer forces or the gods plot a fate of parricide and incest which he is unable to avoid or escape. In the second instance, Cocteau studies the complexity of the human machine; in so doing, he reflects the twentieth century's interest, notably that of Freud and of the Surrealists, in the realm of the unconscious. Man is described as a complexity of heredity, natural instincts and character, especially excessive pride or hybris in the case of Oedipus, all of which influence his behaviour. According to our interpretation, the double determinism (outer and inner) which was separated to facilitate our analysis, is in fact, so interwoven as to form a complex, integral pattern of man's suffering. Sartre also is interested in man; his main concern, as philosopher and dramatist, is man and the human consciousness. The Sartrean philosophy is one of action wherein the existentialist hero, like Orestes, is the opposite of the Cocteau hero who accepts his fate; the former chooses his acts and so creates his own destiny. In chapter three we study the Sartrean revolt against God, a concept necessitated by human need and frailty. According to Les Mouches (1943) and Les Troyennes (1965), spiritual tyranny and moral order are detrimental to freedom since they hold men in bondage. Sartre believes that traditional morality is obsolete; therefore no one can guide man, even less dictate to him as he is free to invent his own values. In chapter four, Sartre's notion of total freedom is examined. The type of liberty advocated in his main play Les Mouches is not a "freedom-from" but a "freedom-for". Man must not consider himself free in the sense that he has no commitment and that he can do what he wants. Sartre wishes to replace this negative approach by a more positive type based on human solidarity and love. Once one recognizes and accepts personal autonomy, one must act in society, for being free in Sartre's terms, is being "free-to-do" and also being "free-in-society". Such a freedom however makes man suffer; he feels the anguish of responsibility and a sense of metaphysical solitude. But Sartre refuses determinism; one is either totally free or not at all. Also, determinism only serves as an alibi to avoid the harsh reality that one is basically free and solely responsible for one's acts which affect the self and society as well. Whichever path is followed, determinism or freedom, both Cocteau and Sartre arrive at the same conclusion: it is possible for him who suffers greatly to eventually attain self-knowledge and dignity, thereby reaching glory or greatness as in the case of Oedipus and Orestes. The apparent pessimism of life and its suffering can thus be transformed into optimism, which in the final analysis is a victory for mankind.

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