UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conflit et ideal dans le theatre de Henry de Montherlant. Marshall, Douglass William


The purpose of this study is to examine dramatic conflict in the plays of Montherlant and its relationship with the author's philosophy which states that the main purpose of life is personal happiness. As a datum of the analysis, it is assumed that the happiness of the individual would increase in proportion as the conflict in his life were reduced, and conversely, that his happiness would decrease in proportion as his conflicts were increased. The ideally situated individual, the happy individual, would be, therefore, he whose life is entirely free of conflict. The analysis we make is confined mainly to the principal conflicts of the plays (those in which the protagonist is the most important personnage) and examines these conflicts from two basically different points of view. The first considers the protagonist in his conflict with others (Chapters one, two and three) and the second examines the inner, psychological conflicts of the same protagonists (Chapters four and five). Chapter one views conflict in the plays as it exists between men and women. In general, the protagonist is a man whose ideals are threatened by a woman. The outcome of their conflicts follows a fairly regular pattern which shows the former favoured at the expense of the latter. In addition, it is seen that the only woman with whom a protagonist can be compatible is she who exists entirely for the man and who is, in effect, only an extension of his own personality. In Chapter two, we deal with the conflicts between protagonists as fathers, and their children. Generally, the conflicts revolve about the efforts of the father to force the child to conform to moral standards specified by him, and although the protagonist rarely succeeds in his efforts, the child almost always suffers at the hands of his father. The only children whom the fathers find wholly worthy of respect are those who mirror his personality in every way, and who even sacrifice themselves for him. The question of the protagonist in conflict with society as a whole is discussed in Chapter three. Montherlant sees society as composed of two kinds of people - on the one hand, the 'superior' individuals and on the other, the 'mediocre' masses. The protagonists of the plays are portrayed as 'superior' individuals. In their conflicts with society, they are almost always successful except in their conflicts with the Church. Their success depends in large part on their capacity to live their own life in spite of society, or to isolate themselves from it. Chapters four and five deal with the inner conflicts of the protagonists whose exterior conflicts have been discussed in the first three chapters. Chapter four examines those protagonists who are aware of their inner conflicts and who suffer from them. In general these personnages have dramatically tragic qualities which stem from their basic lucidity. None of them is 'happy' as Montherlant would define happiness. In Chapter five we consider the protagonists who are unaware of their inner contradictions or are indifferent to them. Their blindness to themselves or their indifference to the inconsistencies which others see in them are in general, factors which contribute to their happiness. Three protagonists emerge from this group as being 'ideal', in that, at the end of the plays in which they are figured, they are completely free of conflict of any kind, and are thus 'happy' in the sense in which Montherlant defines happiness. In the conclusion to our study we see that in their external conflicts (Chapters one, two and three) the protagonists in general are pitted against opponents who seem much weaker than themselves. For this reason, the defeat of the opponent seems to emphasize the egoism and ruthlessness of the protagonist. On the other hand the inner suffering of some of these same protagonists mitigates in large measure their treatment of their opponents and indeed, some of them emerge as truly tragic figures (Chapter four). The fact that 'happiness' in some protagonists (Chapter five) seems to depend not only on ruthlessness and egoism in the protagonist as he deals with others, but also blindness or indifference to his own faults and weaknesses, tend to make these latter protagonists appear somewhat monstruous. We conclude ultimately from our study of dramatic conflict in the theatre of Montherlant that while the plays are generally stimulating emotionally and intellectually, the moral value of the author's philosophy of personal happiness which underlies all conflict in his plays is limited from a humanitarian and spiritual standpoint.

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