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Imagery in the Theatre of Nathalie Sarraute


Sarraute's theatre breaks as decisively with traditional forms as her prose fictions. In the plays imagery has a particularly important rôle to play. It replaces the shifting point of view of the novels as a marker of the "tropistic" register, signalling key moments when the characters are aware of the deep feelings Sarraute calls tropisms, beneath the commonplace surface of a situation. It is the aim of this article to examine in some detail this specifically theatrical function of metaphor and simile. All the plays are constructed around incidents which would be regarded in real life as trivial. In Isma, for example, Elle and Lui admit that their hostility towards an absent couple is entirely based on the "indicible". The function of imagery is to say the unsayable, and here Sarraute uses simile: "C'est comme la queue d'un scorpion. Il nous pique . . . il déverse en nous son venin". The sub-title of Isma (1970), "ce qui s'appelle rien", could equally apply to the surface action in all the other plays. Imagery takes us from this surface to the depths.

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Rothenberg, J. Imagery in the Theatre of Nathalie Sarraute. Neophilologus 82, 385–392 (1998).

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  • Real Life
  • Surface Action
  • Theatrical Function
  • Comparative Literature
  • Traditional Form