André Gide’s controversial short novel L’Immoraliste (1902; The Immoralist) describes a journey of self-discovery by which a young man becomes increasingly aware of his homosexual inclinations.
The Immoralist is based on Gide’s personal experience of discovering his homosexuality while traveling as a young man in North Africa. The Immoralist is narrated by Michel, a young man who describes his marriage to Marceline, a woman he hardly knew, and lays bare the developments of his inner life during the first few years of their marriage. While on an extended honeymoon in North Africa, Michel finds himself attracted to young Arab boys.
This experience inspires him to embark on a journey of self-discovery through which he eventually finds himself leading a double life: he presents a false facade to his wife, while going out on his own to follow his natural inclinations and experience his true inner being. Back home in France, Marceline announces that she is pregnant.
Meanwhile, Michel finds himself increasingly drawn to healthy and attractive young men. Becoming ill from tuberculosis, Marceline suffers a miscarriage. Michel, motivated by a strong desire to return to North Africa, pushes her to travel with him, despite her deteriorating health. After she dies, Michel is left to grapple with the meaning of his own life, and to come to terms with his homosexual tendencies.
The central theme of The Immoralist is repressed homosexuality. Gide’s narrative further explores themes of life versus death, mind versus body, and the process of self-discovery.