Balzac\'s Pessimistic View of Nineteenth Century Society


Le Colonel Chabert exhibits the relationship between strong and weak
characters. The degree of strength within a character reflects how well
the character survives in society. In society, weak characters often have
no identity, profession or rank. Stronger characters have power to succeed
from inner confidence, motivation and ambition. Any drastic changes
brought to the body or soul by the environment corrupts that person\'s
strength thereby affecting their ability to function properly in society.
This comparison of characters gives an understanding of Balzac\'s
pessimistic view of nineteenth century society.

A character\'s strength and energy in the novel determines their
survival in society. Colonel Chabert has been known to be a courageous
hero in the past, "... je commandais un r‚giment de cavalerie … Eylau.
J\'ai ‚t‚ beaucoup dans le succŠes de la c‚lŠbre charge..." Once he returns
to Paris after his injury, he loses his identity and becomes the " weak
character " of society. This is a rapid decline down the "ladder of
success" and Chabert tries desperately to climb back up to the top, where
he had been before. At the beginning of the novel, there is a vision of a
slow non-energetic man walking progressively up the stairs to lawyer
Derville\'s study which contrasts the boisterous energy of the clerks.
Chabert reaches Derville\'s study and is determined to find the lawyer to
help him find justice for his infortunes, "... me suis-je d‚termin‚ …
venir vous trouver. Je vous parlerai de mes malhers plus tard." Chabert
demonstrates some energy left in him by his will to retrieve everything
that he lost. This energy to gain back his power changes to furious and
revengeful energy upon learning what his wife had done, "Les yeux de
l\'homme ‚nergique brillaient rallum‚s aux feux du d‚sir et de la
vengeance." After a period of time, Chabert loses hope and bids farewell
forever. He gives up his identity to become an unknown person as he
realizes that his strength of character is not enough to keep him alive in
this society. He sees himself weakening when seeing his wife and her
children as he does not have the heart to break up her family. He tells
his wife, "Je ne r‚clamerai jamais le nom que j\'ai peut-ˆtre illustr‚. Je
ne suis plus qu\'un pauvre diable nomm‚ Hyancinthe..." Hence, Chabert
becomes a numbered person in an institution, "Je ne suis pas un homme, je
suis le num‚ro 164,..." Also, he becomes the weakest among everyone in the
institution, " En ce moment, le colonel Chabert s\'assit au milieu de ses
hommes … faces ‚nergiques,... " In contrast, Madame Ferraud represents a
woman who has strong innovative traits, starts at the bottom but gradually
rises to the top after Chabert had gone. She becomes driven by her passion
to enter the upper class and become "Une femme comme il faut". She uses
her persuasive and aggressive qualities to satisfy her ambitions. Once at
the top, she has the power to survive better than Chabert. At one point,
Madame Ferraud is weakened when Derville confronts her for lying about the
letter from Chabert. This shows that the characters do not remain in a
consistent position and this determines whether or not a character is
capable of surviving well or not. The personality and appearance of
characters become transformed as a result of changes in the environment.
For instance, Chabert appreciates the help he is receiving from Derville.
He acknowledges Derville\'s kind words by saying humbly, "... Voil… le
premier mot de politesse que j\'entends depuis..." Chabert is surprised that
the treatment from Derville surpasses the ten years of rejection by his
wife, justice and society. His sufferings have caused him be more kind
hearted and more considerate to others. He is willing to live without
pleasure, to remain poor and mediocre. This is a startling contrast to his
past where he had been an ambitious man. Chabert\'s strength is decreasing
as "Ses souffrances physiques et morales lui avaient d‚j… vici‚ le corps
dans quelques-uns des organes les plus importantes." On the other hand,
Madame Ferraud\'s rise to power results in a more persuasive, independent
and high spirited woman. This is shown by,

"Encore jeune et belle, Madame Ferraud joua le r“le d\'une femme … la
mode, et v‚cut dans l\'atmosphŠre de la cour. Riche par elle- mˆme,
riche par son mari,... elle en partageait la splendeur."

In addition, Madame Ferraud "‚tait enevelop‚e dans un ‚l‚gant peignoir,
les boucles de ses cheveaux... Elle ‚tait fraŒche et rieuse." Her gracious
actions and