The symbolism of the title of the novel “The Red and the Black” by Stendhal

The symbolism of the title of the novel “The Red and the Black” by Stendhal

A chervonium is a love,

And chorny – then the magazine…

D. Pavlychko

Since the advent of the novel Stendhal more than 150 years have passed. The novel was read by millions of people in many languages. Many books written about Stendhal’s writings have been written, but so far literary critics can not come to a common opinion about the author’s meaning in the title of the novel “The Red and the Black.” Stendhal himself did not explain this.

Some researchers believed that this refers to the red and black field of the roulette: the novel speaks about the game of chance, about the human destiny set at stake. But Julien Sorel – not a player, not Hermann of “The Queen of Spades,” he is a strong-willed man, consciously going to the intended goal. Julien does not trust the case, he is hardworking and prudent, passion and risk are little inherent in his nature. No, roulette can hardly be the main symbol of the novel.

Perhaps the black color is the color of the cassock, in which the hero wants to dress to achieve a position in society and wealth. Then the red color should symbolize the color of the military uniform of the revolutionary and Napoleonic troops, in which the carpenter’s son, who was late for birth, dreamed of himself. But, according to historians, neither the revolutionary, nor the Napoleonic army was ever dressed in red uniforms. And in general, the red color at that time was not

yet a symbol of the revolution. And the color of Napoleon, whom idolized Julien, was green. So, this version does not seem plausible either.

Maybe the clue lies hidden in the very text of the novel? At the very beginning, going to the house of M. de Renal to become a tutor, Sorel realizes that this is the turning point of his life. Julien enters the temple. Here he finds a scrap of newspaper with a report about the execution of a certain Louis Genrel and unconsciously afraid of the similarity of the names. Leaving the temple, Julien looked back: “… It seemed to him that on the ground near the sprinkler blood – it was splashed holy water, which the reflection of the red curtains made similar to the blood.”

The red color, as it warns Sorel, predetermines his fate: it is in this temple four years later he will shoot at Madame de Renal, for which he will be on the guillotine. The color of blood, the color of nature, the color of disobedience and rebellion…

Perhaps the fact is that Julien’s double life, forced to lie and hypocrite in order to achieve a position in society, made him seemingly composed of two halves. After all, the meaning of the novel is not only in confronting a man from the lower classes of bourgeois society, but also in the tragic combat of Julien with himself, in contradiction between the sublime nature of the hero and the low ways of moving upward. “Red” is not only unfulfilled dreams of military exploits, glory, revolution, but also the proud, fiery soul of Sorel, the fire of his energy, the noble blood of a poor man shed on the scaffold. A “black” – not only the darkness of the Restoration, the Jesuits, but hypocrisy, which the young man wanted to make his second nature, although it was alien to him, distorted his nature, healed life.

Let’s not forget that red is the color of love, passion. Julien loved Madame de Renal and Matilda de La Mole, could be happy in love with each of them, but the difference in social position made this happiness impossible. Black color is the color of mourning, death, which took not only Sorel, but Madame de Renal.

The title of the novel contains a multitude of meanings, and each reader is free to solve this riddle independently, pondering the history of the life and death of Julien Sorel.


The symbolism of the title of the novel “The Red and the Black” by Stendhal