Literary writers incorporate narrative elements in order to convey the flaws of humanity in society, such as gender or class based issues. The Wife of Martin Guerre, by Janet Lewis, portrays the individual’s struggles in feudalist, sixteenth century France and delves into the issues of a complete authoritarian rule, the place of women in patriarchal societies, and the concepts of family honour, justice, truth and love. Lewis utilises metaphorical characterisation of Monsier Guerre, Bertrande de Rols, Martin Guerre and Arnaud du Tilh to illustrate these values. Lewis’ focus upon the morality of each character’s actions and the flaws of their individual principles have upon other characters in a domino affect, such as Monsier Guerre’s regimentation of Arnaud, causing for him to defect and cause Bertrande to bear her duties alone. Lewis reinforces the sixteenth century system, displaying the danger of too much liberation through Arnaud’s impersonation of Martin, causing one to lose direction and place in the world, but also challenges the sixteenth century’s system through Monsier Guerre’s complete dictatorship and Martin’s act of rebellion in the desire for freedom.
Monsier Guerre, the cap d’hostal and father to Martin Guerre, is the absolute authority and dictator of his manor. Lewis portrays him as the stereotypical, patriarchal male of time; he is the sole protector, provider and the sole “accumulated authority of antiquity.” Monsier Guerre’s authoritarian rule confines Martin and Bertrande to his rigid Catholicism ideology of complete order and conformity regardless of circumstances, such as when he punishes Martin for bear hunting without permission. Lewis exposes the dangers of a strictly governed society through the Monsier’s corrupt dictatorship and inflexibility in deviating the hierarchal system; the more regimentation a person is inflicted upon, the more there will be the desire of a revolution for liberation. This relationship between authority, Monsier, and the individual, such as Martin or Bertrande, exposes the flaw of power corruption that exists in any time period. Thus, the sixteenth century has given the opportunity for power to be given discriminatorily to the men of the time. Thus, in an Australian context, the need for equality in society is not desperately sought as in the novel’s context; however, the aim for social justice and abolishment of race discriminations for all around the globe is in progress.
Lewis conveys the need and stability provided by a solid system, but also the injustices experienced by the needs of those not aligned to the conformist dictate. Madame Guerre explains Monsier Guerre’s severity and sense of duty for the family as “necessary…if you have no obedience for your father, your son will have none for you, and then what will become of the family? Ruin. Despair.” Lewis exemplifies the value of family honour and the respect associated with it, tying contextually to a society based upon class and public morality. Challenging the system, she reveals the injustices of a class-based system, but also a respect for it. The issue of justifying egotism and immorality by this concept of honour reveals the flaw of double standards in the male prerogative. Monsier Guerre’s cold regard of Bertrande after her complicity in Martin’s escape of duty deeply affects Bertrande’s life, as she had no control over his actions even if she had tried to stop him. Similarly, a questioning of modern society’s justice system is questioned, as circumstances need to be taken into account if a truly just judgement to be passed.
Bertrande de Rols, the protagonist, is a complex character that displays both frailties and integrity that defers to one’s perspective. She posses...