Young and ambitious Julien Sorel seeks to make a career in a brutal, hostile society. To achieve this goal, he has no means and possibilities, except hypocrisy, whose “art” he is compelled to master in order to adapt to the hated environment. Constantly feeling surrounded by enemies, Julien closely monitors each step, acts all the time and speaks against his convictions and moral nature. An exhausting struggle with himself that goes in his mind, Stendhal equates to “the exploits of Hercules.”
To observe the chosen “tactics” to the hero is not only difficult, but also disgusting, and this introduces into his destiny an inner drama that is increasingly deepening towards the end of the work and gaining a tragic sound. What happened to Sorel, acquires the character of a “tragic blame”, for which he pays for his life. After the fatal shot at Madame de Renal, the hero begins to look at the world differently. There is a radical reassessment
of values, and Julien seemed to see clearly: the goal to which he so passionately sought, it now seems unnecessary illusion, generated fervid imagination, a keen sense of humility and the common misunderstanding of the true nature of the society in which he wanted to take their rightful place.
The defining feature of Julien Sorel, which distinguishes him from his surroundings, is that he does not enter the fight against society for the sake of career and enrichment. By analogy with the characters of Balzac’s novels, this hero is often defined as a careerist, but the incentives for his behavior are distinctly different from those of Balzac’s heroes. Stendhal did not accidentally call Julien’s motives and actions “insanity” and was proud of the fact that, for all their unusualness, they do not seem so. Here it is worth noting that, when calling Sorel “a madman,” the writer like “reproduced” the point of view of sensible inhabitants, whereas in his eyes this was a positive trait of the hero, akin to romantic enthusiasm.
With many facets of his character
and his fate, Julien Sorel fits in a number of romantic images of Stendhal, like Fabrizio del Dongo, Ferrante Palla, Lamiel and others. This kinship is especially clearly manifested in the ending of Julien’s short life. What happens to the hero in prison, when he awaits a sentence for an offense committed in a state of affect, can be qualified as a return to himself, his human essence. As already noted, Julien not only gets rid of illusions, but also radically overestimates his life values, realizes the uselessness of everything he so obsessively aspired to. To the former intentions, the hero can no longer return, but there is no other option for him. In his speech before the jury, Sorel actually makes his own death sentence.