Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Alienation and Exile: In Le Clézio's Révolutions and Cheng's Le Dit de Tianyi

Dr Cecile Leung, Michelle Claire Chase.

J.M.G. Le Clézio’s new novel Révolutions explores a young man’s search for identity in a world of alienation, revolution, and war. This theme is also represented in François Cheng’s prize-winning novel Le Dit de Tianyi. The main characters in both novels find themselves exiled from their homes, searching for a way to control their own destinies.
For both Jean Marro and Tianyi there were two choices: to be the oppressor or the oppressed. However, they did not allow themselves to be trapped into these choices but set out to find an alternative. Searching for their own destiny proved to be uplifting for Jean and tragic for Tianyi. But in both cases the search was the focal experience of their life, an experience that defined their future.

Tianyi searched for his destiny in art and in communion with two close friends, an actress and a poet. Escaping the poverty of China, he traveled to Paris on a scholarship to study painting. When Tianyi encountered Western Art in Europe, he discovered that it exalted man at the expense of the cosmos. He later returned to Chinese painting when he found that it was a better presentation of the universal breath of life. Despite the terrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Tianyi knew that his home and his destiny remained there. Returning to China and to the woman he loved did not bring Tianyi completeness. At the end of the narrative, Tianyi, a broken man, was nonetheless closer to fulfilling his destiny as he felt the presence of his two deceased friends within himself.

Jean Marro, a young French student at the beginning of Révolutions, felt alienated from his parents and society. While his fellow students were collecting literary “gems” i.e. quotations and proverbs, Jean collected newspaper clippings that listed the victims and attacks on both sides in the Algerian war of Independence. To understand the stark reality of the present, he looked into the past and set out in quest of the lost “Eden” of his family’s history. Reflecting persistently on history and the plight of the oppressed Jean finally found meaning in human relationships and memory.

It is in presenting these novels to students that we will show them the value of studying the humanities. While exploring these stories, students will investigate their own experiences, as victims, as exiles, and as members of a society in which they should create their own destinies. The humanities, which enable the incarnation of a Jean Marro and of a Tianyi, in some sense legitimize the exploration and the search for an alternative way of interpreting human destiny. The humanities thus find ways to enlighten contemporary readers confronted by a world in which the focus is on ends, financial or political, at the cost of losing one’s humaneness.


Dr Cecile Leung  (United States)
Associate Professor of French
Department of Classical and Modern Languages
Winthrop University

I was born of Chinese Immigrants on Mauritius Island where I received a bilingual secondary education, a fact which explains my two fields of interest: Francophone Literature and Sinology. I lived for some time in France as well as in Taiwan where I taught French. I am currently Associate Professor of French at Winthrop University, USA. I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the U. of Chicago. My book on Etienne Fourmont (1683-1745), a French proto-sinologist, published by the Leuven University Press, Belgium, 2002, was awarded the Ikuo Hirayama Prize by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Institut de France, Paris, in June 2003. I have some other published articles on Francophone literature. I teach language and literature and I constantly remind my students that the Humanities "save the soul of the world" though they are not given priority in our institutions. I firmly believe that medical students, engineering and business majors should be given a strong background ih the Humanities to prepare them for their career in contemporary society.

Michelle Claire Chase  (United States)

  • Alienation Exile
  • Alternative way of defining one's destiny
  • Rejecting the two ways offered
  • Being the oppressor or the oppressed.
Person as Subject
  • Le Clézio, Jean-Marie Cheng, François

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)