Communities in Conflict: Sand's Human Comedy

By Powell, David A. | The Romanic Review, May-November 2005 | Go to article overview

Communities in Conflict: Sand's Human Comedy


Powell, David A., The Romanic Review


Sociologists define a community as any group of people that perceives itself as distinct from other groups, and which is perceived by the outside world as distinct. Groups establish community solidarity in opposition to other groups, defining themselves for the most part through confrontation. The central components of such cohesion and differentiation are language and culture, morality, and sociopolitical structures. (1)

The very structure of language legitimizes the dichotomy of insiders and outsiders. At one end of the linguistic scale, for example, minimal pairs demonstrate the fundamentals of meaning as it is conveyed through phonological contrast; thus contrast, or phonemic conflict, represents meaning. Similarly, and on the other end of the spectrum, the job of the literary critic must not fail to examine those aspects of group conflict that reveal themselves in an author's use of language. Analytical reading emerges, in part, from an assessment of word choice, which assumes the rejection of alternatives. The sort of literary analysis that seeks to discover sociolinguistic realities in literary texts undertakes to reveal disparity, diversity, and conflict as they manifest themselves in generic and stylistic forms. Occasionally these characteristics conceal, on the contrary, unity and coherence. (2)

Besides linguistic choices, human behavior persistently demonstrates the tendency to define by contrast, as evidenced by the routine practice of stereotypes and prejudices. Labeling the other facilitates group identity, thus specifying who or what we are not (Dennen 13). It can be said, then, that the phenomenon of ethnocentrism is based largely on ingroup/outgroup differentiation. As Claudie Bernard points out, democracy no longer allows for reciprocal action between men since the democratic individual is identical to himself but not to others. Associations, on the other hand, where the biological family has been replaced by the institutional family, allow for mutual action. Thus the creation of elective families, as Anne-Marie Baron suggests, permits a narcissistic construct wherein people can define their own relationships according to desires rather than their needs.

A study of the interrelation between group identity and stylistics will prove useful in classifying George Sand's communities. I propose to outline selected communities that typically inhabit Sand's universe, taking into consideration their constitution, their "enemies," and the conflicts that at once divide and unite them. I will then analyze the stylistic elements that Sand uses to define each community, and then examine whether such identifying elements suffice to equate Sand's group identity with conflict.

Reading through Sand's fictional works, a variety of communities identify themselves in conflict against other groups they consider rivals: national identity, especially French versus Italian; class divisions, e.g., aristocrat versus bourgeois, bourgeois versus paysan (in rare instances, aristocrat versus paysan); geographic contrasts, specifically provincial (and more often than not Berrichon) versus Parisian; professional distinctions, in particular artists versus craftsmen; industrialist versus what today we would call environmentalist; political adherence, e.g., republican versus royalist, Napoleonist versus republican, etc.; gender conflicts; and so on. Fundamentally a study in stylistics, this article seeks to elucidate Sand's use of negative identification to posit an essentially positive world. In so doing, Sand does not deny or erase negative social constructs; rather, she fashions a diverse society through linguistic devices that contrast, confront, and finally complement the very society they define.

A Variation on Romantic Dichotomies

Two conflicts that Sand inherits from a post-Napoleonic ethos are the nationalism of French versus non-French on the one hand, and the mixing of social classes on the other. …

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