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Coming of Age: Re-awakening

The common conception of coming of age means an entry into adulthood through the normative experience of behavior or ways of thinking that is usually delimited within the mindset of adults. The distinction between childhood, teen, and adulthood are causally separated by unique experiences for every stage of growth. As such, the mind also gradually develops into a ‘mature’ way of thinking; meaning, interpretation of different events during childhood may result in a different perspective as an individual grows up.

In addition to the coming of age concept, it also functions as an avenue of re-awakening either through an abrupt exposition of experience or a gradual understanding of the self. These experiences are considered to be in extreme because of its genuine character. For example, the notion of coming of age in The Lover is exemplified through the character’s youth in the midst of repressed sexual experiences and forbidden love. At an early age of fifteen, the character’s narration of her experience provides an unusual perspective which also implies an immoral viewpoint in lieu with pervading social tenets during that time.

Individually however, the relationship between her and the young Chinese man is bordered on irrational desire rather than the common altruistic concept of love. Their relationship is mainly emphasized in sex and the different ways they attempt to enhance it in order to fully experience pleasure in its utmost essence. This symbolizes the repression brought about by the dictates of social norms wherein they exhibit behavior that defies all rules. This notion of coming of age is identified as an intentional act rather a ritualistic behavior.

Most coming of age experiences are formed through the involvement of other adults as a sign of ‘welcome’ into adulthood through guidance. However, in this case, it was a voluntary action in the part of the two characters wherein their consciousness is motivated by irrational desire. The voluntary essence in their actions is the complete disregard for the rules of society without fear or anxiety. On the other hand, Michel’s experiences in The Immoralist are a different conception of coming of age; Michel undergoes the ‘normal’ experiences concerning his coming of age such as his marriage with Marceline.

However, he suddenly realizes his desires which were previously corseted by the pressures of intellectual demand. His coming of age experience is focused on his true realization of his desire as he breaks away from his dogmatic belief of the given experiences through his attempt to know and feel experience itself. The coming of age in this story is on Michel’s transition from a strict and carefree persona to an experience-based character. His experience is not, strictly-speaking, the common conditions of coming of age but his newfound happiness found in the company of young men is the stage wherein he matures.

This maturity is defined by a noticeable change in the character where certain instances provide an instant or gradual revelation to their persona. In contrast with The Lover, Michel’s behavior is distinct because realization comes first before satisfying the new desires whereas Duras’ character is inevitably lured by the irrational nature of pleasure before time separates the characters where they develop their realization and formation of love with the other.

The Lover’s concept of coming of age is an entry toward adult experiences, whether rational or irrational, before realization occurs while The Immoralist focuses on realization as an unpredictable action that leads to realization. Both stories share similarities in terms of the environment that impede the natural tendencies of the character in their coming of age experience. The environment in Michel’s case is his own deliberate action of immersing himself under intellectual capacities.

His total immersion had disabled his ability to fully recognize other experiences apart from the ones he was accustomed to. The Lover’s environment is emphasized more on social systems and the importance of tradition. With the combination of the two factors, it inevitably creates the forbidden relationship between the main character and the young Chinese man as a symbolization of repression and uncontrollable desire. Reference List 1. Duras M. The Lover. Trans Barbara Bay. New York, USA: Pantheon Books 1997. 2. Gide A. The Immoralist. Trans Richard Howard. United States: Vintage International: 1996.

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