The essence of a story comes from the message its author tries to convey. In Querelle, written by Jean Genet, is a world in which Genet depicts in detail the vices and the horrors of human society. The laws that govern civilians are in more ways than one flawed. The protagonist of this story, Querelle, is a thief and a murderer. Yet the journey throughout the story does not promote the stereotypical ‘justice to be served’ mantra. The audience follows Genet through Querelle to find the reflection of society and its faulty hypocritical construction. Similar to the protagonist, Genet is a thief. The parallel that Genet draws from reality to fantasy is prominent in his novel. Historicity is a study of how the life of an author directly affects how the author created its story, its message, and whether it is even relevant. Genet’s actions demand attention for his perspective on society, while works like Querelle attempts to enlighten others of his view on the world. The story of Querelle revolves around a central theme of homosexuality from which branches out panic, issues in gender roles, and question of amorality.
Querelle was published in 1947; Genet had begun to write the novel during his time in prison once again for petty larceny. According to the law his reoccurring behavior called for life imprisonment but by the persuasion of others, the French court once again freed Genet on the grounds of his notable literary works, his ‘genius’. During an interview, Genet himself claimed his criminal acts were a consequence of corrupted world; “Thus I decisively repudiated a world that had repudiated me”(Hall 25). He justifies his actions with the reasoning that the world itself is in disarray. The illegitimacy of his birth and his sexuality condemned Genet in the French Society. And so, through his literary works Genet formed a political stance against the society that condemned him. “Genet's work is part of a French literary tradition called "le poète maudit" (the accursed or outcast poet)…generally rejected by society, these writers sought justification, vengeance, or something comparable by rejecting or attacking that society”(Hall 25). Elements of this ideal translate into the overarching plot of Querelle. During the time of the novel homosexuality was illegal. Genet points out the hostility and ignorance of society onto the sailors that dock at Brest; and how it is a part of the mentality that brings about the chaos, which ensues due to the pressure of society and the panic, it creates in homosexual and heterosexual individuals. As Mario contemplated the murder, “knowing with what horror society recoils from anything remotely related to homosexuality"(Genet 78), he doesn’t mention the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ even though his immediate thought process leads him to the sailors. Mario’s actions reflect on society’s way of knowing the existence of homosexuality while not recognizing its existence in public.
During the 50’s and the 60’s authors, “rhetorically linked Communism to other “deviant” behaviors, such as homosexuality” (Snyder 252). Literary works often describes the world the author currently lives in. The connections in themes between communism and homosexuality seen here reflect on the global issue of stopping the spread of communist ideals therefore equally trying to suppress homosexuality. Besides putting the two issues on the same pedestal, negatively associating the two ideals together spreads the idea of it being immoral.
In Querelle, characters such as Querelle, Gil and Theo maintain the fact that they are heterosexual males, despite having sexual feelings and relations with males. They commit desperate acts to assure themselves and others of this fact in the story. “Querelle let them, his buddies, take their turns with her”(Genet 15). In this particular memory of Querelle, he recalls the kidnap and rape of a random girl. The sailors participate in these violent and criminal actions together in order to strengthen their heterosexuality; this not only proves to their fellow sailors of their sexual identity, it also stands as reassurance to themselves that they are not,“faggots”(Genet 16). Thievery, foul language and raping of girls throughout the ports they visit are reoccurring events in the novel. These acts are committed in desperate times, border-lining amorality as a group. “Genet’s narrative is a series of close-ups that register final bodily gestures of an instinctive panic seeking an unattainable survival”(Ali 592). The panic is set throughout the novel stems from the question of ‘identity’. Sexual and gender identities control the actions of the characters since it is the crux of their survival. Seblon and his quiet timid characteristics come from his inability to control his, “core of femininity [that] could erupt in an instant” (Genet 24). The fear of the others knowing about his sexuality and the fact that his natural instincts categorize him as a female. In the midst of survival morality is non-existent. Human are reduced to its natural animalistic form.
As they travel throughout the world the sailors pride themselves in the sea and answer to no laws or society. Their reunion with society occurs at Brest in which encourages their defiant behavior. And the, “keystone of Western Bourgeois society is the concept of private property, it becomes evident that theft is more of an antisocial act than murder” (Yeager 215). So thus it makes sense that the first crime committed is theft. The murder itself only emphasizes the distorted ideals of society. Querelle kills Vic and his rightful punishment; he believes is engaging in a sexual intercourse with a male. In his internal court, “the Court pronounces the death sentence”(Genet 66). This comments on Querelle’s homophobia while also accentuating the direness of committing this act during this era in France, it is equivalent to death. Despite Querelle’s attraction to Vic though, he kills Vic to set himself free. An idea of abjection is seen here. By killing Vic, Querelle is free from the crime he committed with Vic, stealing his cut of the deal, and also free from his fear of engaging in a sexual relationship with a man. This complete absence of emotion and fear for murdering a person shows the worth of human life in society. The government ideals put more weight on the thievery and gain rather than a life. Its truth astounds the audience. Genet is also paralleling his life experience into Querelle. His own release from prison proves the faultiness of the government’s system. Freedom is granted to murderers, thieves, and criminals who are intelligent enough to avoid being caught.
Through Genet’s defiance to government and society, thievery becomes the main focus. During the story Querelle accounts his victims of the past and the stolen goods he’s left behind as a symbol of his slays. In one account, “thieves correspond to the angels and saints of Christianity…those who are to be admired for the “perfection” whether they have innately or managed to attain”(Yeager 215). This theory correlates to Querelle, as he is the monster whom everybody wants to conquer. The mystery, violence and unknown creates a desire in everybody that is comparable to lust and greed; Norbert, Madam Lysiane, and Mario exhibits a need to overpower Querelle sexually and physically. Genet tries to express the upside-down world in which the morals and ‘righteous way’ viewed from a different angle completely defies its original purpose. Perfection can be defined by many definitions.
Here the transformation of Christianity, into its opposite, sins are complete. Towards the end of the story, “the police arrest the lieutenant” (Genet 275). Throughout the story the lieutenant is the only man entirely sure and comfortable with his sexuality, however, who does not engage in sexual relations with other males unlike the other characters in the novel. He acknowledges his thoughts and feelings for Querelle in a journal but never fulfills them. And furthermore Seblon consistently reflects his actions and thoughts with biblical teachings; his piety is not only unrewarded but also punished for. Seblon’s arrest highlights the idea of the disorder in society. The label and accusation itself is more important than the action done. The characters all contain a driving force constructed by their animalistic desires as human beings. The lust, greed and need for survival eclipse their morality. The carefully assembled ideal that society has evolved from animals to men deteriorates, as the reality of human’s true faces resurface.
Querelle with his characterization and actions show signs of mirroring Genet himself. The theft and according to an article describing Genet, “his disregard for danger is to be expected from one who is indifferent to the monetary benefits of his thefts” (Yeager 216), applies to Querelle as well. However, Querelle is a character that is unsure of his sexuality and is in a journey of coming to terms with such a discovery. Querelle himself represent those Genet is trying to enlighten through this story. However, another author in the novel, Lieutenant Seblon, mirrors Jean Genet himself. He is a refined man who understands his role in society. His laid back depiction in the novel provides an abjection from the story to give a clear analysis of what is going on during the novel. Like Genet, Seblon knows everything, but again similar to Genet, he ends up in jail for being exactly who he is. In Querelle, “we are use to conceive of crimes as something committed against us, Genet’s heroes tell us our existence is the only crime” (Botsford). The good and bad are completely interchanged and thus spirals a tragic domino effect in which nobody benefits from or can achieve a ‘happily ever after’ ending. The chaos that the Querelle causes with the death and the imprisonment of others is technically caused by society itself, which then allows Querelle to escape the debacle unscathed. With his crimes Querelle unlike all the other characters is the only survivor, because he is selfish. He is the hope in Genet’s story that will carry on. The wretched structure of society led to the violence and anger that is shown throughout the novel.
The historicity of Querelle creates a better picture and empowers the story with a greater dramatic effect to express its position on the social issues at the time. In the time of Genet civilization had yet begun changing in social aspects. Many protests and civil unrest lurked around the corner. With Genet’s view of society in general he uses literature to express the ugliness of humanity and demands from his audience a reaction. However like many other master literary pieces its message must transcends the challenge of time and is still able to convey its message to its readers. Even today the issues of homosexuality still exist, although under different circumstances truly understanding Genet’s Querelle enlightens the reader to issues of oppression, rebellion, and human nature that exists in any time period. Changing society’s view towards homosexuality is merely the surface of the repair human, as a specie, must undergo.
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