Le Colonel Chabert

Le Colonel Chabert exhibits the relationship between strong and weak

characters. The degree of strength within a character reflects how well

the character survives in society. In society, weak characters often have

no identity, profession or rank. Stronger characters have power to succeed

from inner confidence, motivation and ambition. Any drastic changes

brought to the body or soul by the environment corrupts that person\'s

strength thereby affecting their ability to function properly in society.

This comparison of characters gives an understanding of Balzac\'s

pessimistic view of nineteenth century society.


A character\'s strength and energy in the novel determines their

survival in society. Colonel Chabert has been known to be a courageous

hero in the past, "... je commandais un răgiment de cavalerie Í Eylau.

J\'ai ătă beaucoup dans le succńes de la călńbre charge..." Once he returns

to Paris after his injury, he loses his identity and becomes the " weak

character " of society. This is a rapid decline down the "ladder of

success" and Chabert tries desperately to climb back up to the top, where

he had been before. At the beginning of the novel, there is a vision of a

slow non-energetic man walking progressively up the stairs to lawyer

Derville\'s study which contrasts the boisterous energy of the clerks.

Chabert reaches Derville\'s study and is determined to find the lawyer to

help him find justice for his infortunes, "... me suis-je dătermină Í

venir vous trouver. Je vous parlerai de mes malhers plus tard." Chabert

demonstrates some energy left in him by his will to retrieve everything

that he lost. This energy to gain back his power changes to furious and

revengeful energy upon learning what his wife had done, "Les yeux de

l\'homme ănergique brillaient rallumăs aux feux du dăsir et de la

vengeance." After a period of time, Chabert loses hope and bids farewell

forever. He gives up his identity to become an unknown person as he

realizes that his strength of character is not enough to keep him alive in

this society. He sees himself weakening when seeing his wife and her

children as he does not have the heart to break up her family. He tells

his wife, "Je ne răclamerai jamais le nom que j\'ai peut-Ótre illustră. Je

ne suis plus qu\'un pauvre diable nommă Hyancinthe..." Hence, Chabert

becomes a numbered person in an institution, "Je ne suis pas un homme, je

suis le număro 164,..." Also, he becomes the weakest among everyone in the

institution, " En ce moment, le colonel Chabert s\'assit au milieu de ses

hommes Í faces ănergiques,... " In contrast, Madame Ferraud represents a

woman who has strong innovative traits, starts at the bottom but gradually

rises to the top after Chabert had gone. She becomes driven by her passion

to enter the upper class and become "Une femme comme il faut". She uses

her persuasive and aggressive qualities to satisfy her ambitions. Once at

the top, she has the power to survive better than Chabert. At one point,

Madame Ferraud is weakened when Derville confronts her for lying about the

letter from Chabert. This shows that the characters do not remain in a

consistent position and this determines whether or not a character is

capable of surviving well or not. The personality and appearance of

characters become transformed as a result of changes in the environment.

For instance, Chabert appreciates the help he is receiving from Derville.

He acknowledges Derville\'s kind words by saying humbly, "... VoilÍ le

premier mot de politesse que j\'entends depuis..." Chabert is surprised that

the treatment from Derville surpasses the ten years of rejection by his

wife, justice and society. His sufferings have caused him be more kind

hearted and more considerate to others. He is willing to live without

pleasure, to remain poor and mediocre. This is a startling contrast to his

past where he had been an ambitious man. Chabert\'s strength is decreasing

as "Ses souffrances physiques et morales lui avaient dăjÍ viciă le corps

dans quelques-uns des organes les plus importantes." On the other hand,

Madame Ferraud\'s rise to power results in a more persuasive, independent

and high spirited woman. This is shown by,


"Encore jeune et belle, Madame Ferraud joua le rýle d\'une femme Í la

mode, et văcut dans l\'atmosphńre de la cour. Riche par elle- mÓme,

riche par son mari,... elle en partageait la splendeur."


In addition, Madame Ferraud "ătait enevelopăe dans un ălăgant peignoir,

les boucles de ses cheveaux... Elle ătait fraňche et rieuse." Her gracious

actions and her manner of speech is characteristic of her new personality.