It can hardly be argued that development is an inseparable part of our life. It is also obvious that development can only be achieved by resolving conflicts. In other words, when the two opposite poles coincide, they start a struggle. Indeed, our whole life consists of confronting pairs: truth and lies, joy and sorrow, love and hatred, piece and war, etc. This confrontation incites people to think analytically, to be critical, and finally, to make their choice. This scheme works every day, and it constitutes the fundament of humanity development.
One of the best illustrations for this simple truth is the book “Chocolat” by Joanne Harris. The novel tells about a small French village, its inhabitants, and their ways of life. To be more specific, their way of life, as far as everyone in the village is subordinated to the laws of church and moral principles.
The latter are convincingly instilled and thoroughly checked by the curate of the parish, Francis Reynaud. The author offers us an exiting and rather amusing observation of how the life in the village changed with the arrival of a new citizen, Vianne Rocher, who opens a chocolaterie there.
As we can see, the plot of the book is based on the confrontation of two heroes, their beliefs and lifestyles. Obviously, in order to make their confrontation brighter and more saturated, the author used certain exaggeration. Francis Reynaud represents an embodiment of self-restraint; he shows severity both to himself and to others.
Independent from all the joys on Earth, “Mr. Whiter-than-White” (Harris, 81), Reynaud seemed to have only one obsession, religion. On the contrary, Vianne Rocher enjoys her life to the full.
She travels around the world with her daughter, whose father, by the way, is unknown; she does not visit church, and seems to have no prejudices against anything or anyone. In other words, she is open to the life and is ready to take all that it offers, unlike Reynaud, who puts a lot of efforts to restrict himself from the creature comforts and joys.
Such opposition chosen by the author represents an everlasting struggle between the hedonist and puritan principles, which are present in every human.
It has to be noted that for her book Harris chose very meaningful powers, which are equally strong in society. On one hand, it is religion with its traditions and beliefs. It plays a great role in human life, and the God’s law is impossible to deny. Religion is the only source of energy for soul and spirit, and it makes this power extremely important. On the other hand, there is chocolate, a very simple, even naive, sweetness of our life. Chocolate represents delight and enjoyment, the things that the human body seeks to.
Chocolate is a little prank, which simply brings pleasure. It does not demand any heavy thinking or realization of abstract notions; chocolate is available to everyone. Thus, in the book, there is a conflict of the soul and the body, and since humans cannot choose between them, they are forced to combine the opposing conceptions and constantly look for a compromise. Interestingly, when Vianne Rocher first came to the village, she was planning to become a part of it, to complete its life harmonically, and to bring some enjoyment in the life of its citizens. However, it appeared later that only confrontation with Francis Reynaud and his authority could make her staying there possible. Therefore, somehow there occurred two religions in the city: the Christian, and the Chocolate. The only difference was that, while the former religion was professed mainly due to the tradition, the latter was of a personal choice for the citizens.
Some of them chose Chocolate because of disappointment in the former way of living, like Josephine: “if you don’t go to confession, if you don’t respect your husband, if you don’t cook three meals a day and sit by the fire thinking decent thoughts and waiting for him to come home, if you don’t have children – and you don’t bring flowers to your friends’ funerals or vacuum the parlor …Then you’re crazy!” (Harris, 64). Others choose chocolate because they had no other joys in life, like Armande Voizin: “No-one talked to Armande” (Harris, 58). There were also some impartial confessors of Chocolate, like Luc Voizin, for whom it was just fun and delight, or Charley, Guillaume’s dog, who barely realized why he made his choice between the religions. However, there were also characters, which were determined to reject Chocolate and its pleasures, like Caroline Voizin, or Josephine’s husband, and of course Francis Reynaud. They ignored the temptation of the sweetness and continued to live their lives like before. Nevertheless, it has to be said that Harris’ position is rather one-sided: the author shows how interesting and exciting the life of chocolate admirers is, but the routine of those who stick to Christianity is described a plain and boring. Thus, the readers are induced to be on the side of Vianne.
The difference between the two opposing poles lies not only in the ways they live their lives, but also in the ways they perceive it.
We can see that the self-restriction of Reynaud leads to the limitation of his outlook. Besides being closed to all the enjoyments of the life, he appeared to be automatically closed to other people, to different interests, and to the whole life, which has a lot more to offer than the religion. In contrast, Vianne with her frankness and openness to the chocolate is open to the whole world.
She tolerates differences, she is not afraid to make friends with those whom the society rejects, like with gypsies, Josephine or anyone else. Even her confrontation with the curate is involuntary, and her personal views do not reject the religion.
In such opposition, we can see the comparison of a complete reservation and complete openness. However, the author manages to show us that none of the religions is perfect. Reynaud was in fact unhappy, because his self command prevented him from doing what he wanted to do. Vianne’s openness was harmful for her daughter, who had no complete family, no stable home, and not even friends besides her imaginary rabbit. In this way, Harris showed that it was necessary to find a golden mean instead of defending one of the positions.
For this reason, at the end of the story the confronting sides find a balance. They do not stop the confrontation, but they find a way to be combined successfully. Reynaud re-evaluates his life and realizes a lot of things, and Vianne, for the first time in her life, decides to stay instead of going to the other countries.
In this way here, in a small French village, there established a new standard of life, which is based on mutual respect and tolerance. However, it is neither Vianne, nor chocolate that managed to change the life in the village so much.
It is in fact the choice between the confronting ideas that made people analyze more than before. Instead of living the life automatically, people started to define, what they like and what they do not like, what they want and do not want to do. The confrontation induced citizens to develop themselves, and the logical outcome was the finding of the balance between the poles. In this way, the confronting lines crossed at this point in Harris’ book, in order to continue their struggle later.
Harris, Joanne. Chocolat.
London: Penguin, 2000.