Monthly Archives: June 2013

1.2 Ourika (pages 18-46)

By Yosálida C. Rivero-Zaritzky

This second part talks more about the beginning and height of the French Revolution and its repercussions on Ourika’s immediate social circle. In the beginning, she embraces the hope that the ideals of the Revolution might help improve her situation. However, the events in Santo Domingo, the massacre of white people at the hands of rebel slaves, makes her more self-conscious of her race and fate. Many aristocrats leave the country to avoid persecution, but Ourika stays with Mme de B. in France. She realizes that she has romantic feelings for Charles, the grandson of Mme de B. and her long-time friend, but he only sees her as a dear confidant. Knowing that she cannot marry the man whom she loves, Ourika enters a convent where she seeks peace in a sisterhood of women who share her devotion, but the severe depression that for years had consumed her has damaged her health beyond repair.

It is interesting how self-perception can determine the type of life a person may lead. It is true that as humans we are a product of our social environment. On the other hand, we enjoy the benefit of our own agency. Going back to the time when Ourika was written, women had very few choices. In fact, Ourika receives the best possible education for an aristocrat woman (music, painting, instruction in numerous languages) but even that is limited. She enjoys a more comfortable lifestyle than other women of her race and even other Caucasian women. She receives an education equal to that of other aristocrats, but not equal opportunities.


Posted by on June 27, 2013 in 1 Duras


1.1 Ourika (pages 3-18)

By Yosálida C. Rivero-Zaritzky

This first section of the novel begins with the introduction of a male narrator who mentions Ourika, his new patient. She tells him the story of her life since she feels that the suffering from her past is the reason for the illness of her present. She is a colored, educated woman who was raised by an aristocratic family in France some years before of the French Revolution. In this section, Ourika describes her life before the beginning of this historical period. Growing up she never felt disadvantaged by the color of her skin; she paid her skin color little if any notice at all. Overhearing a conversation between her protector, the Mme. la Marechale de B., and a Marquise dramatically changed her life and her notions of self.

(1823) has elements from the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements, as do many works of art from this transitional period. On the one hand, it is evident that, on a daily basis and at social gatherings at Mme. de B.’s house, the air was filled with stimulating conversations that strongly favored reason, an Enlightenment characteristic. On the other hand, the story revolves around the personal views, the surroundings, and the circumstances of the main character, a heroine who succumbs to melancholy, a Romantic element. Another Romantic characteristic is the presence of an exotic heroine, a non-traditional, non-Caucasian main character from a remote land with different traditions and language.

The reader learns of the customs of the time with regard to women when Ourika’s comments on her training: she says that it was “considered essential for a girl’s perfect education.” (9) She learned to sing and paint. She learned English, Italian, and “was well read,” all qualities characteristic of an aristocratic education and very difficult for common citizens to obtain. She said that she “knew no other way of life [… and that she] acquired a sharp contempt for everything that didn’t belong in that world. [Her] world.” (8). Ourika was African, but she was never treated differently than any other member of the family, so it was easy for her to overlook the fact that she had dark skin. It is curious that she never felt different until the conversation between the two friends brought the topic to her attention. After that, Ourika says that her childhood ended. She was 15 years old at the time she had that awakening, and it marked the rest of her life. It was not only the fact that she had dark skin; it was the realization that because of that, her opportunities in life were limited.


Posted by on June 26, 2013 in 1 Duras