The Return Of Martin Guerre Essay

The Return Of Martin Guerre Term paper

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The Return of Martin Guerre Historian Natalie Zemon Davis wrote an informative novel about the lives of peasants in the sixteenth century. Entitled The Return of Martin Guerre, Davis tells a true story about a law suit against a man claiming to be someone he is not. She familiarizes the reader with peasantry, laws, and moral attitudes of the time. The story begins in 1527 with a family move from the French Basque country to the village of Artigat. There the Daguerre family settled and started a tileworks business ;a prosperous business in the sixteenth century. They eventually started businesses in wheat, millet, vines, and sheep. To be accepted in the new town the family had to make some changes such as speaking a different dialect, dropping the Da from their name thus pronouncing and spelling it Guerre, and also in style of dress. As for the Guerre women, life in the village of Artigat was a drastic change. No longer could they push ahead of the men to make their offerings at parish mass or go about the church to collect for the vestry. The Guerre s seemed to like their new lives, their family grew, and they became successful in their trade. In 1538 the only son of the Guerre family, Martin, got married to Bertrande de Rols, the beautiful daughter of a well-off family. After much trying they have one son. In 1548 the rich peasant disappeared from the village of Artigat after a family dispute over his stealing some grain from his father. Martin Guerre left his wife and child behind without a trace. In these days a wife could not marry in the absence of her husband unless she has proof of his death, even if he has been gone for twenty years. Bertrande was left with the burdens of being a single mother for the next eight years, until Martin returned, or so she thought. In 1556 a peasant from a French village called Sajas was traveling, possibly leaving town to avoid punishment for a small crime, when he encountered two men mistaking him for a man they called Martin Guerre. The peasant was in fact not Martin, but a man by the name of Arnaud du Tilh. Arnaud soon learned that his resemblance to the Guerre man was uncanny, although believe it or not, Martin was taller, thinner, and a bit darker in skin tone. We learn that people of the sixteenth century determine how they look by what other people tell them because mirrors were not found in a peasant household. Arnaud decided to memorize as much as he could about Martin and try to take over his life because he learned that Martin had a large inheritance from his father. He informed himself about Martin s situation, his family, and the things he used to say and do. After educating himself about the man he was going to pose as, Arnaud let the word spread that, Martin Guerre is back. This worked in his favor because when he did arrive people were predisposed to perceive him as the missing Martin Guerre, whether he looked like him or not. It was his compelling words and precise memories that confirmed it was the real Martin to his family and friends. It was hard for me to believe that a man could impersonate someone so easily, even Bertrande didn t notice any difference while in her marriage bed. But, the family had no painted portraits of the old Martin and believed that it was natural for a man to fill out over the years. He was accepted as Martin, helped run the family business, and fathered children with Bertrande. What Bertrande had with the new Martin was unlike anything she and the old Martin had ever experienced. To cite sixteenth-century values, they lived in peace, friendship, and passion. Eleven years later, in 1559, the new Martin began to get greedy with the family business. Events then led to the questioning of whether or not he was the real Martin Guerre. He was taken to court by his Uncle and wife (although she was quite happy with the nicer Martin) and denied being an impostor. It wasn t until a man with a wooden leg (acquired in battle) entered the courtroom that the peasants learn the truth about the missing man. The second his wife saw him, she burst into tears. It was obvious to her that she had been deceived, therefore marking her an adulterer. Arnaud du Tilh was found guilty of imposture and false supposition of name and of adultery (86), a serious crime in that day, penalized by physical punishment or death. Arnaud received the latter. The story of Martin Guerre has be told and retold throughout French history. Natalie Zemon Davis cleverly told the history of small town French peasants in her version of the story through collected data and journals form the sixteenth-century. Her method of teaching history is creative and very interesting.

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