‘The Monologue’ from Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir (1967)

It’s quietened down a bit up there. Footsteps voices in the staircase car-doors slamming there’s still their bloody fool dance-music but they aren’t dancing any more. I know what they’re at. This is the moment they make love on beds on sofas on the ground in cars the time for being sick sick sick when they bring up the turkey and the caviar it’s filthy I have a feeling there’s a smell of vomit I’m going to burn a joss-stick. If only I could sleep I’m wide awake dawn is far away still this is a ghastly hour of the night and Sylvie died without understanding me I’ll never get over it. This smell of incense is the same as at the funeral service: the candles the flowers the catafalque.

My despair. Dead: it was impossible! For hours and hours I sat there by her body thinking no of course she’ll wake up I’ll wake up. All that effort all those struggles scenes sacrifices—all in vain. My life’s work gone up in smoke. I left nothing to chance; and chance at its cruellest reached out and hit me. Sylvie is dead. Five years already. She is dead. For ever. I can’t bear it. Help it hurts too much get me out of here I can’t bear the breakdown to start again no help me I can’t bear the breakdown to start again no help me I can’t bear it any longer don’t leave me alone . . .

Who to ring? Albert Bernard would hang up like a flash: he blubbered in front of everybody tonight but he’s gorged and had fun and I’m the one that remembers and weeps. My mother: after all a mother is a mother I never did her any harm she was the one who mucked up my childhood she insulted me she presumed to tell me . . . I want her to take back what she said I won’t go on living with those words in my ears a daughter can’t bear being cursed by her mother even if she’s the ultimate word in tarts.

‘Was it you who rang me?’. . . It surprised me too but after all on a night like this it could happen you might think of my grief and say to yourself that a mother and a daughter can’t be on bad terms all their lives long; above all since I really can’t see what you can possibly blame me for . . . Don’t shout like that . . .’

She has hung up. She wants peace. She poisons my life the bitch I’ll have to settle her hash. What hatred! She’s always hated me: she killed two birds with one stone in marrying me to Albert. She made sure of her fun and my unhappiness. I didn’t want to admit it I’m too clean too pure but it’s staringly obvious. It was she who hooked him at the physical culture class and she treated herself to him slut that she was it can’t have been very inviting to stuff her but what with all the men who’d been there before she must have known a whole bagful of tricks like getting astride over the guy I can just imagine it it’s perfectly revolting the way respectable women make love. […] How old was she when she stopped? Maybe she treats herself to gigolos she’s not so poor as she says she’s no doubt kept jewels that she sold off in the sly. I think that after you’re fifty you ought to have the decency to give it up: I gave it up well before ever since I went into mourning. It doesn’t interest me any more I’m blocked I never think of those things any more even in dreams.

HTML5 Icon

This extract from ‘The Monologue’ is the quintessential illustration of self-imprisonment through the French phenomenon, mauvaise foi. Throughout the narrative, De Beauvoir uses a stream of consciousness narrative which lacks in punctuation and illustrates the chaotic mind of the main character. Hate has been accumulating in the protagonist’s life and begins to form a barrier, preventing the escape from her past. As she is blinded by grief and envy, she fails to exploit her own freedom, and implies that she still relies on her ex husband for emotional support but he would ‘hang up like a flash’. This suggests that her life lacks healthy relationships, and she depends on those who are not interested in her happiness.

The language used conforms to a semantic field of illness. Words such as ‘filthy’, the repetition of ‘sick sick sick’ and ‘poisons’ all suggest that the protagonist is feeling as though the world is against her. However, she is shackled by the death of her daughter, as a simple act of burning incense to remove the ‘smell of vomit’ sweeps her back to day of Sylvie’s funeral. This mental constraint imprisons the protagonist to the confines of her apartment, creating a metaphorical prison where she loathes in disgust at society.

Rebecca Hind

Comments are closed.