Book Analysis: Rene

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The French Revolution of 1789 brought an upset of the social order in France: monarchy and religion, the two institutions that had retained order and promoted the growth of a great society for decades, were rejected. It is not difficult to see Chateaubriand’s René as an allegory describing post-Revolutionary France and the predicaments that the Revolution brought to French citizens. Chateaubriand’s short interlude draws a parallel between René and France- both have been cut off from previous social order, which provokes a feeling of nostalgia. In René’s world, like in the new France, there is no connection to the former religious way of life or the traditional government. Even the title of Chateaubriand’s work can be seen as a metaphor for a need for return to the past due to the fact that René means reborn or born again in French. The title provokes contemplation for the renewal of pre-Revolutionary society. Furthermore, Chateaubriand focuses on lack of memory to point to the necessity for the rebirth and restoration of pre-Revolutionary French society.

The first time there is a lack of memory in René, it occurs on an individual basis. On the very evening of the passing of René’s father the “indifferent passer-by trod over his grave”; “aside from his daughter and son, it was already as though he had never existed” (89). René’s father, a ruin of the past himself, stands as a symbol for pre-Revolutionary society. Just as the ideals and morals of pre-Revolutionary France -which had influenced René since birth- had died quickly at the start of the Revolution, René’s father, the “creator” of his “thought”, had passed away in his arms from a “disease which wrought him to his grave in a short time” (88). Even though he had just died that evening, René’s father is barely commemorated or remembered. Chateaubriand inspires horror within readers for how quickly things can be forgotten. René’s father is just as insignificant to current society as a later referenced monument of a past catastrophe that caused the suffering of many people. But unlike the monument, René’s father “had taken on a sublime quality in his coffin” (88). Possession of a “sublime quality” implies a reverence for his father, as though he has inspired awe and brought veneration to René even after his death. His father, although just a ruin of the past to the current world, is still able to arouse the mind with a sense of grandeur and serve as “an indication of [pre- Revolutionary societies] immorality” in another world (88).

Throughout the entirety of the interlude, René’s happiness is located in the past. His childhood is the only place where he has ever “found freedom and contentment” (87). René describes his childhood is a solely positive manner when he says: “The morning of life is like the morning of day, pure, picturesque, and harmonious” (87). The “sweetness” of “illusions of [his] childhood and homeland” have never “faded away”, and continue to “fill [his] soul with delight” (87). When René returns to the woods where he was brought up -the location where he experienced the only happy moments of his life- he discovers that his elder brother has sold his family heritage and the new owner has failed to take care of the estate. Nature has taken over the dwellings of his ancestors, leaving the home of his childhood completely devastated. René tells us that “everywhere the rooms were neglected”: thistle was growing “at the foot of the walls”, the steps were “covered with moss”, and the windows were broken (105). The places that embody René’s childhood memories are completely destroyed, resulting in a lack of remembrance for his past- the sole location of his happiness.

From the beginning of the story, René has been dissatisfied with his life: in the depths of his heart he has a “strain of sadness” and a void he desires to fill (88). In his search to fill his void, René decides to visit the ruins of past civilizations:

First I visited peoples who...
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