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Symbolism of Ourika and Therese Raquin

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    James Arthur Baldwin said, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. ” This paper investigates the symbolism of a mask used as a literary device in both Ourika and Therese Raquin. “A mask is an object normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment.

    Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes” (Mask). This essential characteristic of hiding and revealing personalities or moods is common to all masks.As cultural objects they have been used throughout the world in all periods since the Stone Age and have been as varied in appearance as in their use and symbolism. (History Of The Mask) Ourika although very different from Therese she did rely greatly on mask.

    The first evidence of this is when Ourika is young and she’s being treated like any other child of a wealthy white woman. She wears a mask of a white child for a very long time and is very unaware of this. Once Ourika does find out she is very upset but doesn’t let her feelings show.In this way she is also hiding behind a mask and pretending nothing is wrong when she feels terrible about never being able to truly fit into this world she was brought to.

    We see her mask her love for Charles. This is present when she walks and talks with him but never tells him how she truly feels about him. (26) The biggest mask that can be seen is when she is so ashamed of herself that she covers herself up and wears a veil so no one sees her true color. Therese is constantly wearing different masks.

    She has to wear a mask when she’s a child not because she wants to be because Mme.Raquin makes her. ” She who had an iron constitution, received the treatment of a delicate child, partaking of the same medicine as her cousin, and kept in the warm air of the room occupied by the invalid”(18). She has to take medicine like Camille and is always kept inside with him and is made out to be a sick child just like Camille.

    Zola calls her out to be beastly and animalistic but Therese masks this. “This profile remained there for hours, motionless and peaceful.. “(14).

    She appears reserved and keeps to herself, making her seem empty on the outside.She cast a vague wandering look upon this wall, and, without a word she, in her turn, went to bed in disdainful indifference”(15). “This obligatory life of a convalescent caused her to retire within herself. She go into the habit of talking in a low voice, of moving about noiselessly, of remaining mute and motionless on a chair with expressionless, open eyes.

    But when she raised an arm, when she advanced a foot, it was easy to perceive that the possessed feline suppleness, short, potent muscles, and that unmistakable energy and passion slumbered in her soporous frame”(18).She is said to be caged just waiting to lash out. When Therese starts the affair with Laurent, “She was aware she was doing wrong, and at times she felt a ferocious desire to rise from table and smother Laurent with kisses, just to show her husband and aunt she was not a fool, and that she had a sweetheart. ” and so, at the beginning she wears the mask of a secret passionate lover.

    “It cost her nothing to keep this mask on her face, which gave her an appearance of icy frigidity”, when she’s not with Laurent she uses a mask to disguise herself as innocent. (49) “Nevertheless.She did not exaggerate her effects, but only played her former part, without awakening attention by greater harshness. She experienced extraordinary pleasure in deceiving Camille and Madame Raquin”, Therese plays both Camille and Mme.

    Raquin so perfectly that neither have any idea what’s going on right under their noses. After they kill Camille she slips back into this innocent widowed performance. She goes on fooling Mme. Raquin and all her weekly poker game friends by going on about her life like Camille’s death was just a terrible accident and everything will be okay.

    Therese is very good at wearing different masks in order to put on a good performance. However inside she’s constantly at battle with herself and her guilt. Both characters interesting enough are both from Africa. It’s intriguing that masks are part of African culture and that there are a wide variety of masks used.

    (Mask) Is it just a coincidence that many African masks represent animals? Some African tribes believe that the animal masks can help them communicate with the spirits who live in forests or open savannas. Mask) Its most interesting that masks may also indicate a culture’s ideal of feminine beauty. (Mask)This is fascinating because both character have problems with beauty, whether it be inside or outside beauty. Ourika has problems with her skin color and her inner self-confidence.

    Therese is described as being not the prettiest girl or in Laurent’s eyes he thinks she’s ugly. Therese also has problems being beautiful on the inside from all the ugly things she’s done and all the lying and scheming that’s haunting her and making her depressed and driving her mad.Both Ourika and Therese’s African roots are masked throughout the books and in the end both women sort of self-destruct because of it. Ourika gives up hope and joins a convent instead of finding someone to be with and so she dies alone.

    Therese can’t take her own thoughts and guilt anymore that she kills herself and although Laurent dies with her she still dies alone because of her loveless life and marriage to Laurent. “Who knows what true loneliness is – not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion. “–Joseph Conrad

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    Symbolism of Ourika and Therese Raquin. (2017, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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