Wife of Martin Guerr

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The wife of Martin Guerre
Discuss the tensions between legal and moral justice in wife of Martin Guerre.

The engrossing novella entitled ‘The wife of Martin Guerre' remarks on the inadequacies of Artigues' justice system in dealing with moral dilemmas in the rural village. Lewis' interpretation of a true historical incident that occurred in 1539, questions what human values and qualities their legal and social system suppresses when formulated on behalf of the community. Characters in ‘The wife of Martin Guerre' exist without questioning the mandates of social structure, and consequently these customs that guarantee the community's protection, concomitantly damage and restrictively inhibit individuals. Lewis induces readers ultimately to query the existence of a legal which is reliant on narrowness and rigidity, when its objective is to satisfy the needs of elaborate and intricate individuals. Evidently, the legal system prejudicially considers males over females, thus there is no ethical fairness for the subordinate women. In his ``Rhetoric of Justice'', Aristotle differentiates between two kinds of law: the particular and the universal. The first, he says, is that which an individual community lays down for itself. The second, the universal law, is what Aristotle refers to as ``a natural and universal notion of right and wrong''. Lewis's novel portrays a community which have instituted the first type of law, but there is no adequate sense of community justice being precise and universally correct. Furthermore, Lewis highlights the nature of Artigues' oblivious justice system which innocently supposes man's law to be inextricable from God's will. Though the nature of the social and legal structure ensure the survival and prosperity of Artigues, to the detriment of individuals, retribution and justice are viewed as indistinguishable elements in the religious patriarchy of Artigues.

The social and legal justice systems established to protect the community, ironically forms the precarious constitution that represses moral sensibilities of individuals. People are expected in the traditional patriarchy to conform to expected patterns of behaviour. The plot illustrates to what extent it is necessary for individuals to adhere to such patterns, and indicates the ill-fated ramifications imparted on the community if the rhythmic patterning of social and legal orders are disrupted. When the cyclic conventions of Artigues are disturbed by characters such as Bertrande, the abrupt vulnerability thrown onto on an individual is confirmed. As Bertrande increasingly assures herself that the man she has accepted into her life is none other than an imposter, she correspondingly becomes more isolated and alienated from her community. When Bertrande on one instance in her existence opposes the dictatorship of the patriarchal community which she has learnt to obediently accept, to protest against the imposter that has coned her into adultery, her society left her ‘alone in it.' The ‘single fierce determination' Bertrande instills in her heart to oppose a system is no match for the overpowering strength of the forces she questions and adhere to, thus pressuring her into self destruction. An evocative scene in the novella, which most thoroughly explores her condemnation into ‘solitude' by the legal system follows Bertrande's talk with the priest and her youngest sister-in-law. Lewis explicitly endows Bertrande with the qualities associated with the dying dove. Doves have been sacrificed to transmit the powers of her defenseless and complicit existence in an undermining patriarchy which inadequately responds to her moral crisis. As the housekeeper kills the doves, Bertrande watches with ``comprehension'' as Bertrande is in her own destruction as her strength ebbs ``like the blood of the dove'' understands the inescapable spiritual and physical death of herself. The ritualistic momentum of Artigues and its social system does not...
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