Running from Reality Escapism and the Pathetic Hero in Modern French Drama

Lum, Kara
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
The theatre of World War II and post-World War II France shows a great break from the theatre of any other time before. These plays, clustered in the late nineteen thirties and nineteen forties, show some revolutionary changes from the theatre of the previous centuries. More so than previous centuries, a wealth of literary movements co-existed at the same time and accordingly no one genre of theatre, such as drama and farce, seemed to dominate. The subject matter of this time also shows a great range; it is no longer limited to the upper classes, or as in Naturalism, the lower classes. Through the examination of the texts of Sartre, Genet, Ionesco and Anouilh, some unifying patterns emerge, which link the theatre of the time regardless of the subjects with which they deal or the literary movements with which their playwrights were associated. One such link is the reduction in circumstance of the setting and of the characters themselves. The protagonist or le heros of this time, has very little that is heroic about him. The hero has become pathetic. He is at best an average man, a mediocre man, and at worst a morally corrupt opportunist. The realities of life for the characters too have been diminished: the palaces of centuries ago have been replaced by dingy apartments and provincial railway stations. Even the intolerable poverty and suffering of Naturalism, which happened on such a grand scale, has been reduced to the paltry suffering of the individual. The world, like the characters, has lost much of its glory and beauty.
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