Thursday, April 2, 2015

Form and Free Expression: The Counterfeiters a novel by Andre Gide

Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters is a novel about individual development and in a society structured by deceit. The French author started writing the novel after World War I and continued working on it for years until it was finally published in 1925. Set in Paris, the story includes upper middle class adolescent boys and the men who exploit them. The plot progresses in a somewhat disjointed fashion as Gide inserts psychoanalytic insights popular at the time. Some of Gide’s journal entries, included as an appendix to the novel, indicate a dissatisfaction with his ability to produce seamless connections between realistic structure and unconscious processes.

In the first half of the novel, the young characters are introduced, and their intellectual, social, and artistic developments are described in an engaging manner reminiscent of Balzac. The reader is involved in the plot and cares about the behavior of each of the boys. The children are becoming adults without the realization that a single immature act can determine a life path.

In the second half of the book, the pace of the plot slows as Gide inserts an increasing number of psychological interpretations into the story. The device he uses is a journal written by a novelist character, Edouard, who is using his experience with the boys and their families to write his own novel. With this voice, Gide is able to discuss events from the point of view of a witness who is intimately involved in the action and assumes the role of psychoanalyst.

The final chapters of the novel demonstrate Gide’s success in the integration of form and free expression as the plot accelerates to chaos and resolution. The reader understands that all of the boys are counterfeiters in their interactions with family, friends, and others. This is expected from adolescents who are impulsive and largely ignorant of life’s consequences. But we do not expect the adult characters to be counterfeiters, trying to deceive by pretense and dissembling in order to exploit the boys socially, intellectually, and sexually. Though this counterfeit life is habitual in the adults, Gide provides hope that the younger generation is capable of insight and judgment and can avoid dissolute lives.

Complete redemption by the boys is possible if they recognize the immorality of their external counterfeit roles. Also, they must learn to stop the narcissistic internal voice that speaks to them incessantly reflecting the counterfeit influence of parents and friends. Finally, they can enter a kind of external silence that allows genuine communication with other people, without guile or envy, and experience a compassionate and selfless immersion in the lives of others. The Counterfeiters is a good example of an author's imagined experience in the writing of a novel.

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