Greed Is Nurtured In The Grandet Family
Cari Gilkison, French Literature 1996
The world of the Grandet family is one full of greed. Why is this? Because is a trait that is nurtured by one’s environment and not innate or in man’s nature.
Monsieur Grandet struggled and worked for everything he had. The struggle for survival became a struggle to get more and more. He threw himself into one aspect of wretched existence and was unable to see anything else. What began as a legitimate act turned into obsession. He had to keep count of all the food down to the last sugar cube. At one time it might have been crucial to know, but after he can afford things he still clings to every possession. Nothing is expendable. Material things are all there is for a miser like Grandet. Balzac uses Grandet as an example of people who describes as, “sustained by two feelings, vanity and self-interest.” Monsieur Grandet fills the house with greed, but its influence on his family are varied, proving one’s environment has more to do with the path you take then the driving force inside.
Then there are people like Madame Grandet. She gave her life completely for her husband and child. She was not greedy for money at all. She didn’t even ask for what she needed, let alone for anything in excess. Madame Grandet was the complete opposite of her husband. Instead of being cold and scheming, she “had always felt so deeply, the gentles of her heart forbade her to rebel so that she never asked for a penny.” She supported him as he needed in complete silence. Controlling people need someone passive to control. Madame Grandet could have been just as greedy as her husband, but she was not because that was not how she was raised or how she was taught to behave. Women are not taught to be aggressive. They were taught to be passive and take care of their husbands. When Grandet took her household chores away she was left with nothing. Madame Grandet is representative of all women in her position, and most women in her time.
Eugenie was innocent and pure. Although very much like her mother, she was more assertive. If it were not for Nanon, her father, and her experience with Charles, she might have ended up exactly like her mother. It is not until her father demands to see the gold that she has given away do we see how love has changed her. “Love had made Eugenie as cunning as avarice had made her father.” If our lives and personalities were predetermined by nature than Eugenie would not have changed as she did. She might have been oblivious to the greed or even become greedy herself if it weren’t for her experience with Charles. It was the realization of her father’s greed that influences her to be different from him and to give part of her inheritance to charity!
Charles was raised pampered in Paris. When he came to Grandet’s he was as naive as Eugene was. Because he was so naïve he was tricked by his uncle and sent off to find his own fortune. The influence of his uncle’s selfishness and greed was great. If his uncle had not been greedy and had been willing to spend the extra money to let him stay, he would have turned out very differently. He became as greedy as his uncle when it did not appear that he was anything at all like him. He seemed more like Madame Grandet, Nanon and Eugenie. It is precisely this change in direction that led to the obvious conclusion that Charles’s greed was nurtured by his experiences.
Nanon lived a hard life, not too much unlike Madame Grandet. Instead of being frail and passive like her, she was strong and assertive—sometimes even aggressive. It was because she was like Grandet that he hired her. Though they had some things in common, one thing they did not share was greed. She felt compassion for Charles when he arrived as did Madame Grandet and Eugenie did. Nanon is the key character who balances things out. She does not go to extremes like Monsieur Grandet or his wife Madame Grandet. Even in her definition of love, she shows her warm heart and her practical side both. Cornoiler is interested in her for her money, and though she would have that passionate, dramatic love she says, “I like that, even though it is not love.” Her life has shaped her into the person she is.
Each of these characters is different. If it were in mankind’s nature to be greedy they would all be like Monsieur Grandet. Then the story would be boring. The difference is made by the environment you grow up in and the things that you experience. Greed or goodness can be nurtured in anyone.