More Than Skin Deep - Mad Shadows

Topics: Love, Aesthetics, Beauty Pages: 4 (1285 words) Published: July 15, 2013
Work Cited
Blais, Marie-Claire. Mad Shadows. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1959.

More Than Skin Deep
Mad Shadows is a French Canadian novella written by Marie-Claire Blais and was published in 1959. This novella illustrates a dysfunctional family, where outer beauty reflects status and is deemed more significant than inner beauty. Louise is a mother who loves her son Patrice solely based on his flawless physical beauty, which in essence portrays her vanity and superficiality. On the other hand, Isabelle-Marie, the daughter and a character that is unattractive on the exterior, is deprived of her mother’s love due to her lack of physical beauty. The author uses irony and imagery throughout the novella to emphasize the role of Louise’s vanity and obsession with physical beauty in contributing to the dysfunctional family. Isabelle-Marie’s name means beautiful which is ironic since she is described as an ugly character in the novella. Not only does she have an ugly appearance but also contains this destructive force due to the build up of Louise’s neglect and jealousy of Patrice’s beauty. Dark imagery is used to portray Isabelle-Marie’s ugliness:“[b]ut her eyes were black and mean, and skin was like a tanned hide” (Blais 48). “Black” is a color imagery used to describe Isabelle-Marie’s ugly appearance and her ominous nature. Black eyes are often attributed to dark religious figures such as Lucifer; it evokes evil and darkness in Isabelle-Marie. On the other hand, Louise mistreating Isabelle-Marie and ordering her to do the fieldwork forms an image of a fairy tale, where Isabelle-Marie creates an allusion to Cinderella. The reader invariably feels compassion for Isabelle-Marie due to her mother’s harsh and unfair treatment. It is ironic that Isabelle-Marie embodies Cinderella, a beautiful Disney princess even though she is described as this ugly character not only on the outside but also on the inside....

Cited: Blais, Marie-Claire. Mad Shadows. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1959.

More Than Skin Deep
Mad Shadows is a French Canadian novella written by Marie-Claire Blais and was published in 1959. This novella illustrates a dysfunctional family, where outer beauty reflects status and is deemed more significant than inner beauty. Louise is a mother who loves her son Patrice solely based on his flawless physical beauty, which in essence portrays her vanity and superficiality. On the other hand, Isabelle-Marie, the daughter and a character that is unattractive on the exterior, is deprived of her mother’s love due to her lack of physical beauty. The author uses irony and imagery throughout the novella to emphasize the role of Louise’s vanity and obsession with physical beauty in contributing to the dysfunctional family.
Isabelle-Marie’s name means beautiful which is ironic since she is described as an ugly character in the novella. Not only does she have an ugly appearance but also contains this destructive force due to the build up of Louise’s neglect and jealousy of Patrice’s beauty. Dark imagery is used to portray Isabelle-Marie’s ugliness:“[b]ut her eyes were black and mean, and skin was like a tanned hide” (Blais 48). “Black” is a color imagery used to describe Isabelle-Marie’s ugly appearance and her ominous nature. Black eyes are often attributed to dark religious figures such as Lucifer; it evokes evil and darkness in Isabelle-Marie. On the other hand, Louise mistreating Isabelle-Marie and ordering her to do the fieldwork forms an image of a fairy tale, where Isabelle-Marie creates an allusion to Cinderella. The reader invariably feels compassion for Isabelle-Marie due to her mother’s harsh and unfair treatment. It is ironic that Isabelle-Marie embodies Cinderella, a beautiful Disney princess even though she is described as this ugly character not only on the outside but also on the inside. Isabelle-Marie’s immoral actions of disfiguring her brother’s beautiful face and her temptation to kill her own daughter portray her inner ugliness. For instance, “…when she thought about what this child would become later on, an ugly duckling whom everyone would avoid, she was almost tempted to kill her” (91). Both Louise and Michael reject Isabelle-Marie due to her ugly features. Therefore, she does not want Anne to face the same future as her, which tempts Isabelle-Marie to put an end to her daughter’s life. Instead of changing this cyclical nature of superficiality, Isabelle-Marie is raising her daughter similar to Louise by abusing and mistreating Anne due to her ugly appearance. One would expect Isabelle-Marie to raise her daughter in an environment filled with love and affection, a life that she never got to experience. However, Louise plays an influential role in Isabelle-Marie’s life, which causes her to continue this chain of dysfunctionality where physical beauty is treated with more importance than love.
The author presents religious and spiritual imagery of water ironically to tell her story. Water is commonly associated with purity and is sacred in baptism as it cleanses the original sin of Adam and Eve. Ironically, water is used to reflect immorality in Mad Shadows. Patrice portrays vanity as he stares at his reflection in the water: “[l]eaning over to look at his own body, he trembled feeling so contained, so handsome…The one quality which made him a man! Finally he raises his eyes, eternally confident in his own being” (20). Patrice stares at his reflection and finds immense satisfaction by looking at his beautiful features. He resembles Narcissus of Greek mythology who is so self-absorbed and vain as he falls in love with his reflection and eventually dies because of this self-love. Vanity reflects pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity. Therefore, it is ironic that Patrice uses water, which is often associated with sacred religious activities, to behave sinfully. Rather than cleansing away his sins, the author uses the imagery of water to emphasize Patrice’s vanity.
Blais incorporates religious imagery to emphasize the dysfunction in the family. For example, she uses the imagery of bread and wine ironically to emphasize the fractured relationships in the family. From a Christian perspective, bread and wine represents communion and relates to the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples. This religious imagery, which symbolizes unity, is frequently mentioned in the novella and often ironically. For instance, “[i]t was again dinnertime, the hours when enemies with in a family passes judgment upon each other in silence” (103). The family gathers for dinner but is segregated and judgmental of one another. The scene at dinner conjures up an illustration of an excruciatingly “silent” gathering where family members loathe one another as “enemies”. During dinnertime, “Louise…poured some wine and came back to him smiling. Her Beautiful Beast was there before her, her handsome, powerful, and empty-headed boy”(88). Isabelle-Marie is always the one baking the bread and preparing the wine like a servant while Louise feeds Patrice like a prized possession. The dinner gathering emphasize a strong dividing line between the family members, Louise and Patrice are on one side since they are considered beautiful, and Isabelle-Marie on the other side since she is considered ugly. Therefore, the family is never unified when the communion is present; they are always disconnected from one another due to Louise’s fixation with outer beauty. Blais uses this religious imagery in Mad Shadows to paint an image of a dysfunctional and twisted family where beauty overpowers love.
Louise’s entire character is powerfully ironic in that she is the furthest thing from a mother. Mothers are expected to be of caring and affectionate nature. However, Louise neglects Isabelle-Marie and treats her like an outsider since she is physically unattractive. Louise only favors her son Patrice because he reflects her outer beauty and she feels the necessity to sustain it by only nurturing him. Since Isabelle-Marie is physically unappealing, Louise does not love or treat her in the same fashion as Patrice. Isabelle Marie finally gains the courage to express how Louise has mistreated her. She exclaims, “[m]other, ever since I was a child you adored Patrice because he was beautiful and hated me, the ugly one. Patrice always Patrice! You never realized that your son was stupid, that he was an idiot…nothing but a beautiful body” (104). Isabelle-Marie’s tone is filled with contempt and jealousy while she spills out all the emotions that she had been bottling up for years. Louise always favoring Patrice due to his beautiful face even if he was just an “idiot” exasperates Isabelle-Marie. Moreover, Isabelle-Marie’s ill thoughts towards her own daughter and disfiguring her brother’s face can be seen as the result of her mother’s intolerance and lack of love towards her. Louise’s superficiality and favoritism towards Patrice transforms Isabelle-Marie to turn into a self-loathing and destructive character. Hence, Louise can be held responsible for creating this dysfunctional family. Rather than loving her children unconditionally as a mother should, she loves them based upon their looks. Therefore, ironically, even though Louise is their real mother, she fits the archetypal character of an evil stepmother due to her discriminate, mean and evil behavior.
The author uses irony and imagery in Mad Shadows to depict how Louise’s obsession with beauty influences her children and forms the basis of a dysfunctional family. The portrayal of jealousy, resentment, and vengeance play a key factor in the family’s demise. In doing so, the author tells a moral story of a vain mother who, blinded by vanity, destroys the spirit of both her children.
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