“Lilacs” tells the story of a woman called Adrienne Farival who compulsively comes back in the convent where she has spent her childhood, every time she smells the scent of lilacs. While everybody welcomes her, especially Sister Agathe, the Mother Superior of the convent has a completely different reaction toward Adrienne. She is distant and accepts Adrienne’s presents coldly. Adrienne has a privileged but ambiguous friendship with Sister Agathe hence Adrienne will end up being banished from the convent by the Mother Superior, leaving Sister Agathe crying in her room.
Blending of opposite spaces
There is an inadequacy between Adrienne and Sister Agathe’s lifestyles. They nevertheless succeed in maintaining a link that is strong enough to resist what seemingly oppose them. The importance of the structures to which they belong is minimized in front of the strength of their relation, because it is outside any construction. These oppositions make Adrienne and Sister Agathe’s friendship look peculiar, since they seem to have nothing in common apart from the convent itself. Their friendship seems to be very deep but ambiguous as they « linked arms » and then walked « hand in hand » after having kissed each other ardently at Adrienne’s arrival at the convent. There is an emotional tension between them that goes beyond their friendship. Their behavior proposes a new perspective on love. If their respective environments have to be taken in account, they would perform love in a way that would match the world they are living in.
For instance, in Adrienne’s environment, since she is a singer, her love is linked with the member of her audience. The fact that she has a suitor (who is a fan of hers) courting her indicates what kind of relationship her lifestyle encourages her to have.
In Sister Agathe’s environment, since she is a nun, her love is linked to God. The fact that she has never left the convent indicates what kind of relationship her lifestyle encourages her to have as well. In this context, the love Adrienne and Sister Agathe perform matches with none of their situations. The upkeep of their relationship shows the weakness of the rules and the boundaries that control their worlds.
The Mother Superior’s behavior foreshadows what is going to happen during Adrienne’s next visit to the convent. The fact that Adrienne lives the wealthy life of a singer, makes her different. Adrienne’s gifts may be seen by the Mother Superior as a sign of ostentation that could tempt and turn the nuns away from their lifestyle and hence, explain why she “chided Adrienne for the extravagance”. By banishing Adrienne from the convent the following year, the Mother Superior confirms that every one sees Adrienne as a threat to the convent’s peace.
Her relationship with Sister Agathe is the ultimate sin, and no one in the convent can accept to let Adrienne come inside ever again. Adrienne has to come back to where the members of the convent think she belongs, and keep Sister Agathe away from any temptations. The Mother Superior represents this consciousness of limits and boundaries. She could have accepted Adrienne and Sister Agathe’s relationship. But it would have been the evidence that the construction on which the organization of the convent is built, and on which the Mother Superior’s authority is built as well can be questioned, and deconstructed. The fear of seeing collapse every thing the Mother Superior has dedicated her life to, seems to be what motivated her to banish Adrienne. The Mother Superior is the guarantor of the good order of the organization of the convent, and the spiritual life of nuns. Her reaction shows her attachment on what tend to prevent her environment from being compromised. So the space where she can perform her authority could not be questioned.
The questions that the story raises encourage to think about how people who live in an environment in which they don’t seem to belong are treated. They also encourage to think about what the limits of what is normal or moral are, and who settle them. Adrienne represents every thing that is contrary to religious norms but at the same time she longs to be in the convent. Apart from the preservation of constructions, there is a notion of purity here that is important, because what provokes Adrienne’s banishment is the Mother Superior’s desire to preserve physical and spiritual purity as well as her authority. Love seems to be what Adrienne seeks for in the convent. It is also what every person practicing a religion seeks for. This essay shows how religion, and by extension society, puts boundaries in order to keep everyone in his or her own mold.
In many ways, Kate Chopin’s » Lilacs « , reminds of Jeanine Deckers also known as Soeur Sourire’s true story. This nun had a commercial success in 1963 with her song « Dominique ». She has later decided to leave her convent to assume her musical career and her love story with her long-time girlfriend, Annie. The consequences had been hard and both ended up by commiting suicide in 1985.
Today, the church’s position on gay mariage in France can make us wonder if there is any future for same sex people who share deep affection and love, or any way for them not to be seen as freaks and not being rejected.