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The Return of Martin Guerre Essay Sample

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The Return of Martin Guerre Essay Sample

The Return of Martin Guerre is a reconstruction of the famous case of Martin Guerre’s return to the small town of Artigat in Southern France after being absent for eight years. However, “Martin” is actually an impostor named Arnaud du Tilh, or Pansette. He is accepted by his wife, family, and friends for over three years. After the so-called Martin Guerre has a dispute over family finances and the sale of some land that the family owns and maintains, he is accused by his uncle and father-in-law Pierre Guerre of being an impostor and thief. There are two trials, the first in the regional city of Rieux and the second in Toulouse.

“Martin” is found guilty of being an impostor and sentenced to death. “Martin Guerre” appeals the case to the regional Parliament of Toulouse. The judges are close to acquitting “Martin” when the real Martin Guerre, with a wooden leg, shows up. Armand du Tilh is positively identified as an imposter and sentenced to death. The thesis or themes that Natalie Zemon Davis discusses throughout the book have to deal mostly with Bertrande and the impersonation of Martin Guerre. Why did Bertrande go along with “Martin’s” lies? Was she lonely? Or does Bertrande take advantage of the opportunity to have a better husband and lover than she did before?

At one point, Zemon Davis seems to hypothesize that Bertrande is in a conspiracy to coordinate her stories with Martin, even though she knows he is an impostor. Is this to say that she was willing to risk her life to keep their marriage and her love for “Martin”, Armand du Tilh alive? How is it that “Martin” kept the stories of the real Martin’s life in order? Zemon Davis discusses the fact that it was easy for the Deguerres to change their identities to the Guerres when they moved to Artigat, so maybe the changing of Armand du Tilh to “Martin” wasn’t as hard as it would seem.

The fact that most peasants were illiterate and didn’t have well-kept records, made it very easy for “Martin” to deceive the town folk of Artigat. There were no finger prints to compare, no form of identification, or any type of identity to prove to the people of Artigat that “Martin” wasn’t who he claimed to be. The story of this famous case is from two primary sources, a book by Judge Jean de Coras, Arreste Memorable, who was present during the trial at the regional Parliament of Toulouse.

The other was by a lawyer, Guillaume La Sueur called, the Admirable History of the Pseudo-Martin. (p. 4, 15) Natalie Zemon Davis uses other secondary sources to figure out the village social structure and political structure of the time. These secondary sources consist of different legal documents and journals that were saved over the ages. Zemon Davis uses her findings through documentation and sources to piece together a tale of mystery, deceit, and maybe even a tragic love story.

Natalie Zemon Davis takes the historical case of Martin Guerre and retells the story through certifiable sources, and also by piecing together the facts with some imagination. The way that she does this is very unlike Wunderli’s version of imagination. Wunderli used his imagination to tell the story of the “Drummer” by creating a fabrication and then telling the reader that it was his imagination later. Zemon Davis uses her imagination only to piece the facts together. She doesn’t try to invent a story to intrigue the reader, but rather fill in the blanks where there is no evidence of what really happened. Zemon Davis does this very well when describing what the friends of Martin Guerre, Bertrande, and the judges were thinking. Zemon Davis also helps to tell the story of Jean de Cors as a judge, and gives background history about the Guerre family.

This was helpful in creating a canvas for the story of “Martin Guerre” while helping to convict him of the impersonation. In the book it describes that “Martin” doesn’t speak the Basque language that he did when he was a little boy. (p. 54) Another way that Zemon Davis told the story was through a 3rd person perspective, which was very helpful, because the readers saw the people in the view of a narrator. Occasionally she will talk in the first person telling the readers what she thinks about the story or the characters.

Zemon Davis’s view isn’t omniscient, which helps to develop the mystery of the book. Her first person view is an investigation of a mystery, the theft of the identity of Martin Guerre, and what happens from the perspective of a person living hundreds of years later. The careful consideration that she takes when telling the sneakiness and strategy of Armand du Tilh deception is amazingly detailed and thought through. Overall, Natalie Zemon Davis’s methods for telling this story helped to give the novel a voice that the reader could understand and enjoy.

The film, “The Return of Martin Guerre,” is very intriguing in the way that the story was laid out. It starts out with the marriage of Martin to Bertrande. This is different from the book because the book starts out with the history of the Guerres. The marriage is portrayed as rather hasty, the town’s people hurrying the couple along and into the marriage bed, where in the book this connects to the section where the newly married couple were rather young, ages 10 and 14 (p. 16). The film continues with the hardships of the unconsummated marriage and the Charivari.

This event is given a little more detail in the film by showing the boys that Martin grew up with, castrating him. In the book it just describes the people humiliating the Guerres as a couple for not having children until 6 years after they were married. This helps to show the embarrassment that Martin and Bertrande went through at the beginning of their marriage, and the way that the peasants acted like other people; women, men, or animals; during the Charivari event. Some other differences that differ from the book to the movie are, first, the original trial of “Martin” was in the regional city of Rieux and not in Artigat; a barn is set on fire in a nearby town that is blamed on “Martin”, which becomes one of the reasons for his first trial (p. 57).

Second, the people that tell Pierre that “Martin” is not his nephew are the innkeeper and a soldier; unlike the film where it is travelers or gypsies (p. 56, 58). And third would be the way that the peasants are depicted. In the film the Guerres are seen as hospitable, maybe even wealthier, peasants. Due to this interpretation, the relationship between them and the Another event that was added to the movie is when Bertrande had to declare that the real Martin Guerre was in fact her true husband in the court in Toulouse. She never had to declare her mistake in court but rather just to Martin himself. This change in the movie showed that Bertrande loved “Martin” but wanted to keep her life for her children.

Bertrande is seen as a groveling wife that slept with a man that was not her husband. This part was hard to watch because the audience sees Bertrande, earlier in the film, as a woman that lasted 8 years without her husband. She ends up on her knees begging for his forgiveness when in fact he should be asking her to forgive him. All of the changes are focused to the audience of the film and keeping their attention. I think one of the biggest reasons that they changed the film, in the ways that they did, was because Natalie Zemon Davis wanted the audience to see and experience the lives of the peasants.

The makers of the film paid particular attention to making the illiteracy and the lack of records in peasantry a big part of the movie. There is the scene where they show the “X’s” where the town’s people, and supposedly Bertrande, signed to convict the phony Martin. Also, the scene where “Martin” is teaching Bertrande how to write her name was a very important part. The creators of the film continue to show the importance of Bertrande learning to write in the scene where Bertrande says, “I would have signed my name,” when talking about her falsified signature on the document. This was not in the book but added a great deal of respect for Bertrande because she is one of the few peasants that can say that they know how to write their names.

These changes only enhanced the movie. The few details that they didn’t put into the film were probably cut because of time constraints. One can assume that these scenes were also cut because they were only going to take away from the audience’s attention. The book and film, The Return of Martin Guerre, were both great resources to show the lives of the peasants in medieval France.

They used facts and very specific details, such as the illiteracy, to show that not only was peasant life undocumented but also the differing levels of peasantry. The lives of the Guerres and the town folk of Artigat were impacted by one man, who saw an opportunity to change his destiny. Bertrande saw this man as a chance to get an amended marriage with a man who loved her. The village of Artigat is a legend that lives on of envy, theft, and astounding performances of Arnaud du Tihl, the false Martin Guerre.

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