Paternal Law and the Abject in Ourika

Interpreting the malaise of Ourika, the eponymous heroine of Claire de Duras’s short novel of 1823, as melancholia does not go far enough in understanding the portrayal of racism, its underpinnings, and its effects in the novel. Reading through the lens of the Kristevan notion of the abject, however, brings forcefully to light Ourika’s thwarted desire for fusion with the maternal/fraternal other, her brutal separation from the “natural order,” and her internalization of her abjection as her “sin.” The paternal Law that institutes her abjection—and that Ourika embraces by entering the convent and eventually telling her story—cannot redeem her nor offer the union of hearts that it promises. In highlighting the function of the skin as a potentially permeable boundary, a Kristevan reading of Ourika illuminates the hidden identity of the social Other with the abject individual it rejects.

Mary Jane Cowles
Kenyon College
Volume 49.1–2