Crical study of the mother and her role in "le Passé simple"

Essay, 2012
5 Pages


In opposition to “Le 6eigneur” in Le Passé Simple, who is depicted to be a god-like figure; a representation of power in all its forms, we find the mother, who throughout the novel is only referred to by her social role “mother” as a sign of total lack of identity. Weak, obedient, fearful, to cite only a few adjectives that the mother was qualified with, she appears to be totally transparent in the family circle and in addition to being the subject of “Le 6eigneur’s” tyranny, she is also confronted to her son‟s amour-propre.

The representation that Driss, the narrator, gives to the mother can only be interpreted in a negative way. From the very first pages of the novel, we can read Driss saying: “Oui, ma mère était ainsi, faible, soumise, passive. Elle avait enfanté sept fois, à intervalles réguliers, deux ans. Dont un fils qui ne pouvait qu’rtre ivrogne et moi, qui la jugeais.”1The Mother in this passage is represented as being a birth-machine, her only role as a being is to give birth. Driss also hints at the idea that he‟s aware that by representing his mother in such a way, he is actually judging her. He sees this as being one her failures as mother, in other words Driss is indirectly stating that this person who is only referred to by her social role, is not even able to succeed in assuming that social role, which is being a mother. He highlights that by stating that she has given birth to two “outcasts” the first being his own self and the other one being his brother whom he says can only be a drunk.

The mother is also described as being more of “housewife” than a wife. She is often seen by Driss in the kitchen doing the house-work, as in this quote:

Je vis ma mere dans sa cuisine, au milieu de ses tagines et de ses braseros en tôle. Elle soufflait sur la soupe parce qu’elle était trop chaude, la remettait sur le feu quand elle refroidissait, soufflait encore, réchauffait… Elle mordait in mouchoir en dentelle et sanglotait sans larmes sans bruit, comme sanglotent les femmes qui Durant quarante ans ont sanglotés2

Once again, the mother is depicted as a mere instrument of Le seigneur to do the housekeeping. Yet this quote makes a very crucial point, it shows that the mother is aware of her condition, and her suffering. The fact that the mother is crying her condition pushes the reader to think that she is not ignorant of her loss of dignity, and that she may try to claim it back one day, or the other. Driss sees his mother suffering without having the guts to join his rebellion, which pushes him to address her in very violent ways at times, as it shown by this quote:

Mére, il a raison, pas de saints, ils ne sont que cela, saints, mais des vivants, des homes, un homme pour toi, un adultére…non ! ne dit pas :’O mon oreile, tu n’as rien entendu’, tu as très bien entendu : un amant. Un amant qui te posséde et qui te satisfasse ! Vois, j’ai découvert ton cher vieux secret, mais je ne puis te consoler, je ne suis que ton fils…non ! cette derniere phrase n’est pas ambigue, très claire au contraire, n’aie pas peur, tu as parfaitement compris.3

These words uttered by Driss to his mother are not only violent, but also disrespectful towards a woman who spent her life in sacrifice for her children. The mother was also disappointed by Driss’ idea of rebellion and was trying to persuade him not engage in it, and certainly not to include her in his plans; “laisse, cède, plie encore une fois… je n’en vaux pas la peine”4The mother understands her son‟s trial to push her into claiming back her human identity, yet she appears to be totally weak in front of Le seigneur’s hegemony and power.

Consequently, this woman who was depicted with all the most undignified adjectives, who spent her life abiding by all the rules society‟s rules, le seigneur’s rules, the „Islamic’ rules, decides to cancel all that, by transgressing the ultimate law God‟s law. Trough the act of taking her own life, by her own hands, the mother hopes to claim back her human dignity. So the same dignity that the mother could not achieve during her whole life, she tries to assert by showing that she has the power to „choose‟ death over life.

In regards to Driss the death of the mother could also be read from a psychoanalytical perspective. The mother could be viewed as a disruptive element in the process of his rebellion. Her death could be viewed in that regard as a detachment from the image of “the mother” therefore leaving free path for Driss to engage in his rebellion. Suicide can also be interpreted as the individualist act par excellence, in that regard the mother‟s suicide can also be interpreted as a refusal and a cancellation of all the social roles that were attributed to her, especially that of “mother” which does not even fit her one hundred percent as we saw earlier.

The mother, despite the fact that she is not a major character in the novel, has a lot of impact on the course of events. Driss’ rebellion happens only after her death, which as has been said earlier, can be interpreted from psychoanalytical perspective as bearing signs of Oedipus complex. The mother - during her living - is understood to represent a barrier in front of Driss to commence his rebellious scheme. Therefore the death of the mother triggers the rebellion against Le Seigneur whom unlike the mother is not seen by Driss as representing a social role - that of the father - rather as being the representative of the institution. As for the death of the mother which we first came to understand as being an ultimate trial to claim-back her lost dignity, can also be seen as a simple refusal to participate in a game which she felt she could only lose, as we can understand when Driss says the following “ma mere, tendre et soumise, 1,60 m, 40 kilos, et dont le destin est de s’ignorer jusqu’à l’action qui l’accomplirait. En quarante ans d’existence, telle elle a été, pas un poil de plus.”5


- hra bi, riss. Le 3assé 6imple: oman. aris eno l, . rint.
- Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
- Freud, Sigmund. Introduction ¬ La 3s\chanal\se. Paris: Payot, 1962.
- 0oura, Jean-0arc. itt ratures )rancophones t Th orie ostcoloniale. aris Presses universitaires de France, 2007.


1P. 44. Translation: Yes, my mother was that way, weak, submissive, passive. She had given birth seven times, at a regular interval; two years. Among which a son who can only be a drunk, and me, who was judging her

2Page 26 Translation: I saw my mother in her kitchen, in the middle of her „tagines‟ and her tole braziers. She was blowing on the soup because it was too hot, put in back on the fire when it cooled, blew again, warmed… she was biting the lace handkerchief and sobbing without tears, without a sound, as were sobbing the women whom during forty years have sobbed.

3Page 57-58 Translation: Mother, he is right, no saints, they are only that, saints, but living men, a man for you, an adultery…no! Do not say „oh my ear, you have not heard anything‟, you have heard very well a lover. A lover that possesses and satisfies you! See, I discovered your dear old secret, but I cannot console you, for I am only your child…no! This last sentence is not ambiguous, it is rather very clear; don‟t be afraid, you have perfectly understood.

4Page 58. Translation: Let be, cede, and fold again… I‟m not worth the trouble.

5Pages 36-35 Translation: My mother, tender and submissive, 1m60, 40 kilos, and whose fate was to ignore herself until the accomplishing action. In forty years of existence, so she was, not a single bit more.

Excerpt out of 5 pages


Crical study of the mother and her role in "le Passé simple"
University Hassan II. Casablanca
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ISBN (eBook)
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Quotes are in French but translated in the endnotes.
passé, simple, driss, chraibi, moroccan, literature
Quote paper
Amine Zidouh (Author), 2012, Crical study of the mother and her role in "le Passé simple", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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