Au Revoir Les Enfants Essay

Throughout the book “Au Revoir Les Enfants” Louis Malle highlights at several points the typical associations which the majority of people have when discussing the role of the Germans during the war. However Malle approaches the topic from a more complex angle thus forcing the reader to question the general stereotypes and examine the varying attitudes of both the French and Germans, by portraying them in certain situations in which they adopt a sometimes unexpected attitude.

During a scene in the beginning of the book whilst the boys are out in the village they encounter a group of German soldiers, Malle exposes this situation in order to immediately draw attention to the general hostility and fear which is evoked by the Germans.

“Quelques soldats allemands.. les élèves restent debout, intimidés..”

The pupils reaction to the soldiers demonstrates the stereotypes associated with them, feelings of fear and uncertainty.

During the forest scene, where Julien and Jean become lost during a game the author uses the fall of night in order to pre-empt that something bad is going to happen.

“La nuit commence à tomber.”

As Julien and Bonnet begin to panick, and try find their way home the appearance of two German soldiers envokes a sense of danger and terror. When the soldiers discover the two boys, it is the immediate assumption of both the reader and the personnas that they will be cruel and sinister characters. The way Malle describes the boys as being cornered by the two soldiers suggests that they are cold and unthoughtful before they have even acted. The presumption that the soldiers are callous characters is based purely on the stereotype of Germans during the war.

“Julien et Bonnet sont coinces entre deux soldats..”

However, as the scene unravels we discover a different side to the two German soldiers, when they take Julien and Bonnet in their car to return them to the school they cover them with a blanket which demonstrates compassion and warmth.

“Ils partagent une couverture et grelottent.”

Furthermore, when they arrive at the school the soldiers are presented as having a sense of humour which softens their characters and sharply contrasts to the usual stereotypes about German soldiers, as being cold and aggressive.

“Est-ce que vous avez perdu des enfants?”

At this point in the book, Malle has succesfully introduced to the reader a controversial theme which demands a lot of thought and consideration, as we are made aware that not all German soldiers had the same principles.

Continuously, it must be taken into account that the attitudes of the French differed during the war also, and it would be unfair and blatantly wrong to assume that the Germans were simply “bad” and the French were “good”, which is a common misconception.

The restaurant scene is essential in under lining the way in which Malle does not see the French and Germans as merely “black and white” but instead evaluates each of their characteristics and exploits them thoughout many scenes in order to highlight the common misjudgements made by many people.

Whilst Julien, his older brother François, Bonnet and Mmm. Quentin have lunch they witness the French police randomly persecute a quiet, well dressed man and at first, politely request to see his papers.

“Vos papiers monsieur”

However, quickly their tone changes and they become aggressive and rude as they realise that the man is a jew.

“Dis donc toi, tu ne sais pas lire?”

The way in which they begin reffering to the man as “tu” as opposed to “vous” conveys their blunt and unnecissary hostilities, treating the man with rudeness and disrespect. Malle makes it apparent to the readers at this point that it is not possible to form judgements of people based on things as simple as their occupations, nationality or beliefs. Typically we assume that the French police would have been generally sympathetic and “good”, whereas here Louis Malle provides a clear example of quite the opposite.

When the situation in the restaurant becomes heated and it looks like the French police are going to become violent and aggressive, a German voice is heard and rather unexpectedly the German soldier takes control, and stands up for the jewish man demanding for the young French policemen to stand down and leave him alone.

“Une voix allemande couvre la brouhaha. ”

The stark contrast in this situation between the German soldier and the French police, the typical sterotype is reversed and Malle clearly expresses the way in which the characteristics of both the French and Germans can differ, thus it is not acceptable to categorise people in groups according to their nationalities.

Throughout “Au Revoir Les Enfants” Louis Malle clearly exposes the use of different situations in order to exploit the misconceptions made by a vast amount of people, and he captivates the readers by presenting the characters from a different angle, and not simply in “black and white.”

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