Bertrande was the only main character in “The Wife of Martin Guerre” who was not motivated by self-interest
Bertrande, just like all characters in The Wife of Martin Guerre, is motivated by self interest. Her devotion and faith in the ecclesiastic, social and legal systems of her time cemented within her mind a solid and immovable set of moral guidelines, and it is these morals which led to her emotional consumption and her purely self-motivated efforts to end it. Martin’s resentment towards his inferior position and towards his choking social confinement inspires him to leave Bertrande and Artigues to attempt to attain a greater degree of freedom for himself.
And, it is Arnaud du Tilh’s opportunistic nature which drives him to assume another man’s identity and take charge of both a wealthy household and a beautiful woman, in the self-interest of making a new and better life for himself. Bertrande’s philosophy on life is made evident when she says “the truth is only the truth. I cannot change it, if I would”, which is a declaration of her implicit faith in the ideological boundaries which governed Artigues. To her, sleeping with a man other than her husband under any circumstances was morally, socially, and legally wrong.
She had ‘sinned’ and done ‘great wrong’, and it was her “[desire for] absolution” which motivated Bertrande to try to redeem herself to a ‘greater power’ (both God and Men), to once again be able to experience ‘warmth and security’. Despite the fact that almost overwhelmingly, the family “would still have [her] be deceived”, she could not bear the burden of possessing a ‘secret weight of shame upon her soul’, and selfishly did not purchase them any ‘peace and happiness’, but instead endeavoured to “free [herself] from a deceit which was consuming and killing [her]”.
Although she indeed could have at any stage agreed to ‘her madness’ and prevented any further degradation of pride and happiness for other members of the household, which may indeed have lasted with the isolation of Artigues and Martin’s probable desire to ‘never return’, she instead opted to try to salvage her “honour and peace”, and acted purely for herself. Martin’s powerful resentment towards the feudal system which governed him is made obvious through his succession of rebellions. At his wedding, he declared he “[was] tired of all this business”, and ‘cuffed Bertrande soundly upon the ears… cratched her face and pulled her hair”, which is quite powerfully contrasting to the love and tenderness one would expect from a groom at a wedding.
He was driven by the prospect of power in his ‘newly acquired sovereignty’, both as a husband and as a future head of a large estate. Once he had won over Bertrande’s love through her “joyous passion”, he yearned for more power. He was motivated to ‘defy his father’ and go on a bear hunt, and forced to tolerate a severe punishment from his father which he felt was “not just”. The choking confinement he felt is clear when we learn that he is “smothered [by] resentment… t his inferior position”, and that after his escapade he found “… the taste of liberty sweet”.
His incredibly great degree of self-interest, and lack of any altruism is clear when “he [turns] to wave with a free, elated gesture” from Bertrande and his life, leaving them to what would inevitably be a reduced degree of prosperity, both Bertrande’s and Sanxi’s love to desolation, and making way for Arnaud. Arnaud’s opportunism was extreme, for a man to take on the task of impersonating another in all ways. He researched “all there was to know about Martin Guerre”, and bore a great deal of ‘physical resemblance’ to him.
With his “gift of the tongue”, he manipulates everybody – including the priest, even to such an extent that Bertrande “surrendered herself to his love” and bore his child. We learn that he was inspired by “tales of the Guerre household” from Martin, and inspired by “the opportunity” – to gain possession over great wealth, a beautiful wife, and a new life. For a man to be capable of ruthlessly inflicting such a sense of ‘desolation’ and ‘isolation’ upon a woman, and to drive her to feel that she “would be happier dead” is to act selfishly indeed – entirely motivated by self-interest.
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