Felicite is a simple-minded servant, but she is also a complicated human. Simple-minded servant is a label that applies to her, but like all labels, it cannot fully capture her as a character. There are some ways in which she acted saintly. Her selfless defense of the Aubain and the siblings, for example, could be seen as saintly. Her endless love of LouLou could be saintly, or very simple-minded, depending on what was going on in her head. The fact is, we don’t actually get a great deal of insight into her motivations and character.
The same goes for Mme. Aubain. Her situation is unfortunate and she perseveres. This dogged strength could be viewed as saintly suffering or as an old woman being pragmatic and cold. Despite the wildly different ways to interpret her as a character, we are given no clear answers about her motivations or thought process. Neither Felicite or Aubain adhere enough to any label’s rules of conduct for me to decide. That is what I like about this story. It elegantly shows the difference a slightly changed perspective can make.
It was difficult to read the stereotypes outlined in these poems. The language was beautiful, powerful, and compelling. Yet the worldview painted caused a familiar sting. Gender described in such a polarizing way causes in me a gnawing feeling of both an ugly truth I don’t want to acknowledge and a bitterness over the reality that growing up in such a culture inevitably reinforces behaviors in both genders that continue the cycle. This behavior widens the divide between genders and then more bitter art like Baudelaire’s is produced. I don’t get the impression from these poems that Baudelaire is happy about the giant disconnect between men and women. In fact, both genders are presented in disgusted ways. Women’s physical power as the object of masculine gaze is powerful, but that unbalanced agency is always stripped by time. Men are given the both the power and the awful responsibility of the masculine gaze and then feel weak and manipulated by women’s physical power. Most of the poems are from the perspective of men, so descriptions of women from the outside in are contrasted by descriptions of men from the inside out. Women as sex objects are depicted often, and then that depiction is torn down by other poems and sometimes by the end of the same poem.
Rama and Sita are the perfect Eastern ideal of selflessness. They unquestioningly sacrifice themselves to help each other and in the process their individuality is stripped away, yet they end up happy and successful. Chidam and Chandara are much closer to the Western ideal of individuality. They fight for themselves, to the point of sacrificing themselves. They build up clear senses of themselves and what they want to do to make their own lives better, while losing any sense of their connection with the group and ending up hurting each other.
I chose the Rose Tree because I have no idea what’s going on in this poem. The contrasting metaphors of the well water, the ocean breeze, and the human blood’s effect on the tree are the key to this poem. The ocean breeze is something that can whither the tree and is closely connected to “politic words,” so… politeness kills living things? The well water is something that creates and encourages beautiful, pride-worthy growth. Yet the well water is gone. Human blood is the final way to encourage the growth. Not beautiful or pride-worthy growth – just a “right” rose tree. I think it’s human relationships. Politeness kills it, traditional means of communication have died in the industrial age, and humans are hurting themselves over the worthy cause of keeping those relationships alive. I don’t think this is the final answer. I’m not even sure if it makes any sense. It’s what I feel when I read it, but what I love about this poem is that it can be interpreted in so many ways.