“Claude was growing aware of the essential oneness of the forest and had given up trying to distinguish living beings from their setting, life that moves from life that oozes; some unknown power assimilated the trees with the fungoid growths upon them, and quickened the restless movements of all the rudimentary creatures darting to and fro upon a soil like marsh-scum amid the steaming vegetation of a planet in the making. Here what act of man had any meaning, what human will but spent its staying power?”
Above all else, Andre Maulraux’s The Royal Way is a novel about the futility of the actions of man, but in man’s brief existence in this world, there is adventure and man comes to know himself, the other, and death. The essence of man is not to conquer these facets, but merely to know them and to know his relation to them. In his essay entitled “Indochina as ‘Reves-Diurnes’ and Male Fantasies”, Panivong Norindr would have us believe that Malraux’s novel reinforces French colonialist ideologies, a belief supported by Althusser’s theory of Ideology and Ideological State Appratuses. According to Norindr’s reading and Althusser’s theory, Malraux’s work serves an ideological function by promoting the ruling ideology and the ways in which one identifies oneself in relation to such ideology, that is to say Panivong Norindr denounces Andre Malraux for helping to construct the allure of Indochina as a colonial place through his presentations of masculinist eroticism and effeminizations of the asian space. However, just like Althusser’s theory, Malraux’s novel is full of contradictions and the biggest shortcoming of Norindr’s reading is that he focuses too much attention upon the words, thoughts, and actions of the two protagonists Perkins and Claude Vannec and not enough on the consequences and futility of those words, thoughts, and actions. Norindr fails to see that The Royal Way deals with far greater notions than a ruling ideology or meager desires. Perhaps a better argument is to say that contrary to Norindr’s claims, Malraux had no intentions to serve any ideologies, let alone French colonialists ideologies, or to promote any desires, let alone masculinist erotic desires, in fact, the many contradictions in his novel provides us with a means of seeing, perceiving, feeling, and gaining an internal distance from the very ideology in which it is held.
On the surface, The Royal Way is a story about adventure and masculinist desires to conquer the unknown, the other, but while Malraux clearly expresses these desires through Perkins and Claude Vannec, their failures paint a much clearer picture. Early on in the novel, Malraux establishes a homosocial bond between two personifications of himself, Perkins and Vannec.
“In this phantom world, unstable as marriage, his last thoughts of the West fell from him; wave on wave, serenely, a cool wind lapped his temples, and under its soft insistence he saw Perken with new eyes…”
Throughout the novel, Malraux uses this duality to shape and draw perceptions of himself, based in both fantasy and reality. Claude see Perkins as brave and manly, but we quickly learn that Perkins is not nearly as manly as his bravado seems to indicate. Perkins says, “there was that time – the first time – when I found that I was impotent…” and in one fell swoop his manhood is damage and we realize that his desires to conquer are bred out of a selfish desire to compensate for his impotence, but more importantly, this startling revelation damages the notions of adventure and colonial conquest as somehow being for some greater good.
Focusing our attention now to Claude Vannec, we see that he is perhaps more closely resembles the reality of Malraux, that is wanting to be brave and adventurous like Perkins, but driven more by selfish desires of financial gain. After an exchange with a local official, Claude thinks, “What right had this official to claim a title over any objects he, Claude, might discover, to hunt for which he had come here, on which his last hope hung?” Speaking through Claude in this manner, Malraux presents a subtle irony that begs the question, what right did Claude have over any other? Better yet, what right did