Analysis of André Malraux’s Man’s Hope

Man’s Hope by the French writer André Malraux (1901–76) was first serialized in the communist daily Ce Soir from November 3 to December 7, 1937. The novel was then published in book form at the end of 1937. Owing to its political engagement, vivid historical account, and modernist style, it proved an immediate international success and was quickly translated into several languages. Probably the most famous of Malraux’s works, Man’s Hope was written during the Spanish civil war (1936–39), which saw the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government by Francisco Franco and his generals. Malraux was one of the first French intellectuals to go to Spain to support the Republicans. Within the first few weeks of the conflict he had set up an international flying squadron named España, buying old and new planes. He recruited and commanded volunteers and fought in battle to restore the Republic. At that period, Malraux was an active member of the French Communist Party. Without giving in to a didactical communist propaganda, Man’s Hope was yet Malraux’s most politically engaged book. The author in this novel tried especially to arouse public opinion for the need to support the Republican cause. Hoping to reach a larger audience, he decided to make a movie loosely based on his novel, Sierra de Teruel, shot in Spain between 1938 and 1939 under difficult conditions. Released in the wake of World War II as Man’s Hope, Malraux’s first feature film holds a special place in French film history.

André Malraux / Wikimedia

The tale related in the novel is set in Spain and spans over eight months. It covers the period stretching from July 18, 1936, marking the beginning of the civil war, to March 20, 1937, which corresponds to the Republicans’ famous Guadalajara victory. It is divided into three unequal parts—“Lyrical Illusion” (220 pages), “The Manzanares” (132 pages), and “Hope” (74 pages). This sequencing heightens the narrative’s pace in ways reminiscent of cinematic sequential framing, with a constant play on sound and visual and pictorial effects that create an intense, vibrant, ever-changing atmosphere.

Along with overt political engagement, Malraux in Man’s Hope displays marked aesthetic aspirations. His blending of a highly elaborate style with movie techniques reveals a persistent desire to create a new modernist genre that merges art and politics, writing and cinema. Throughout the narrator combines overdramatization and silence, revelation and elision. He, for instance, puts the Republican fighters center stage while avoiding all description of the fascist side. This deliberate omission, relegating the evil force to the realm of the unnamable, dehumanizes the enemy and forcefully tends to an overall idealization of the Republican side.

Another important feature of Man’s Hope is its misogynist undertone. Just as the narrator allows no textual space for fascist discourse, he confines women to the background in a way that undermines Spanish women’s contribution to the Republican struggle. Despite the plethora of characters, 80 or so in all, the novel is devoid of noteworthy female characters. And this is no surprise given Malraux’s propensity to relegate women to the margins. Later contrasting his work to Hemingway’s—whom he disliked—Malraux clearly believed that the Spanish war had been a man’s business. He stated: “Hemingway had spent more time than I in Spain before the war, and he spent less time during it. In short, he knew a great number of civilian Spanish and I knew a great number of enlisted Spanish. Example: his heroine is a woman; I do not think I knew a single woman in Spain with the exception of a few cultural officials and of course our nurses.”

Man’s Hope falls outside the traditional novel genre and was considered upon publication as the experimentation of a new form. Sometimes assimilated to a roman-reportage, in vogue in the 1930s, Man’s Hope transcends this literary trend by merging reality and fiction, history, and romance. He similarly goes beyond the roman d’aviation category represented by Saint-Exupéry‘s Southern Mail (1928) or Night Flight (1931). The airplane sections, with Magnin as leader (emblematic of Malraux himself), depart, for instance, from the traditional heroic personalized “Knight of the air” figure, to create a team-based, collective ideal, emphasizing solidarity and fraternity.

Fraternity is a key theme in the novel. Although referring to the opposition between anarchists and communists, Malraux never infers that their disagreement may in effect have weakened the Republican side. On the contrary, he downplays the divisions, enhancing instead the need to unite against a common enemy: the fascists.

Harris, Geoffrey T. André Malraux: Across Boundaries. Amsterdam; Atlanta: Rodopi, 2000.
Malraux, André. Anti-Memoirs. Translated by Terence Kilmartin. New York: Holt Reinhart, 1968.
———. Felled Oaks: Conversations with De Gaulle. Translated by Irene Clephane. New York: Holt, Reinhart, 1971.
Tame, Peter D. The Ideological Hero in the Novels of Robert Brasillach, Roger Vailland & André Malraux. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.

Categories: French Literature, Literature, Novel Analysis

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