Pour une lecture de "l'enfantin" chez Cocteau, Fitzgerald, Kafka, Saint-Exupéry et Vian
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In this thesis I propose a new approach to the study of the “childlike” in five works from the first half of the 20th century: Les Enfants terribles (1929) by Jean Cocteau, “Un diamant gros comme le Ritz” (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, La Métamorphose (1915) by Franz Kafka, Le Petit Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and L’Arrache-coeur (1953) by Boris Vian. Distinct from both childhood narratives and narratives for children, these texts nevertheless exhibit a childlike quality that can best be described as an in-between state of ambiguity. In the first section of the thesis, I look at the “between” identity of the children. There are children who fly and who are extraterrestrials. There are others who have adult jobs and who even marry. In fact, I call these ambiguous characters, “les enfantins”. In the second section of the thesis, I show that the language is “between”. In 1951, child psychologist Jean Piaget published “La Formation du symbole chez l’enfant”, a work in which he studies the tendency of young children to take one object for another. I show how this type of almost magical thinking that Piaget calls “symbolic thought” appears in the “récit”. In the final section of my thesis, I study areas in the story where the reader finds himself in a “between” position, unable to establish whether what he is reading is occurring or whether it belongs to the imaginary symbolic thought of the child. Here I focus on the readers’ hesitation, contrasting it with the hesitation that Tzvetan Todorov explores in the genre of the fantastic. While this thesis is a close reading of five specific works, it incites several theoretical questions that can be applied more widely to studies concerning the “literary child”: what constitutes a child character in a work, what effect does a child character have on the language of the text, and how does a child character affect the way a text is read?