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The character development of Julien–The Red and the Black

  “This was a look that desired revenge upon the higher class; such moments inspire people like Robespieree and his Jacobins, who led the French Revolutions.”

Book Introduction

In the book, a young man from a peasant family tries to rise himself beyond his upbringing, and developes romantic relationships with two ladies from the upper class, respectively Mrs. de Renal and Mathilde, but eventually is sentenced to death. The story happens under the background of the disruptions of the French Revolution and the reign of Emperor Napoleon, with the full name of The Red and the Black: A Chronicle of the 19th Century.

Book Recommendation

The language is quotidian so that it is not hard to read. It is absolutely a great book for French history lovers and politics lovers, as it is praised to be a book worth reading by all politicians.

book cover of The Red and the Black

The character development of Julien

— Book review of The Red and the Black

Originally written in French, the book The Red and the Black is well-known for its political significance, as it is a satire of the Bourbon Restoration. In the book, there are many active discussions on political parties and beliefs, and scenes of political conspiracy are also very prevalent. Besides its historical and political significance, it is also well-known for its structures and great literary values. Because of its typical structures, The Red and the Black is considered to be a prose novel and a psychological novel. The unique psychological descriptions have promoted the character development of the protagonist Julien Sorel, and the tragic, ambitious and conflicted character is perfectly presented to the audience using various techniques.

The psychological descriptions of the character’s minds and thoughts have made the character Julien very vivid, and such techniques are especially effective in conveying the emotions of the protagonist when Julien is having an affair with Mrs. de Renal and when eventually Julien is being sentenced to death. While some may argue that the descriptions are not necessary as they stagnate the plots, I truly appreciate the styles of Stendhal’s writings and consider such descriptions eye-catching and completely necessary.

At the beginning of the book, the plot focuses on the development of the relationship between Julien and Mrs. de Renal, which is diagnosed as Oedipus complex in psychology. As someone from the lower class, Julien craves to be respected by the people from higher classes and the psychological descriptions of his inner thoughts have brought the character to life; at the same time, the feeling of inferiority and self-denial is perfectly presented by the descriptions. When shown some respect, Julien becomes very happy and exclaims that “someone so well-dressed had called him Sir!”, showing his joy as if he belongs to the upper class himself. His inferiority complex toward rich people is also presented when he thinks “how he hated these rich people. What monsters and what fools! He always privately disagreed with them, but many times he didn’t understand their political beliefs”; such description reveals his complex feelings for the upper class, including contempt, hatred, jealousy as well as the eagerness to be part of it. He considers his attracting Mrs. de Renal as conquest and victory, instead of love and affection. The narrative perfectly shows his feelings of happiness and where the happiness comes from; “happiness filled him- not that he was in love, but that his fear was over. His voice was loud and even”. Though written in a third-person narrative, the psychological depictions in the book are still very magnificent.The very first volume of the book utilizes this style of writing and develops the twisted complex Julien has.

The Red and the Black

The last volume of the book mainly focuses on Julien’s affair with Mathilde and his death. When he is put in jail, he begins to reflect upon his mistakes and miserable life, which is when psychological depictions again come to play. When reflecting upon his dreams and life in prison, “Julien did not consider himself worth his much devotion:to tell the truth, he was tired of heroism. Simple tenderness, unsophisticated and even shy, would have made an impression on him”. These lines signify his changes in attitudes toward love and romance.

With these psychological depictions, it is possible for such a character to be remembered forever. The reasons why Julien fails realizing his ambitions are quite different from Dick Diver in Tender is the Night, and it directly links to psychological analysis, which is also why the psychological descriptions are so effective.

Information: The Red and the Black- Stenhal

Date:7/4/2018 revised in June, 2019

Revision comments:

Again I spent time changing the narrative tone to present tense and took out some unnecessary sentences. I think that this book review is very different from the other ones as for the first time I was writing about literary techniques and their significance in the character developments.



Published by Sunny

I am a high school rising sophomore and I love to read and write.

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