Historical Reality and Subjective Truth in Michel Tremblay’s The Real World?

Mavis Himes, Ph.D., C. Psych.

Michel Tremblay’s The Real World? presents us with a number of challenges and questions regarding memory, authorship and the nature of ‘truth’ (with either a small or capital “T”). Tremblay’s play is ostensibly about family dynamics and the memoiresque recollections of childhood of a budding playwright. It is also a play about the nature of remembering and forgetting, recollection and repression. In Tremblay’s semiautobiographical play, we can ask the questions: What exactly is the nature of memory? of historical reality versus psychic reality? of subjective versus objective truth? And most significantly, whose truth and whose reality?

Is it the reality of young Claude, the sullen quiet son, the ‘wannabe’ writer and artist who sits in a corner taking notes on the family scenes? The archivist? The recorder of the family history whose interpretation of reality is clouded by his own subjective desires and needs? Or is it the reality of the mature Claude who brings back to the family HIS version of the facts, filtered through HIS subjective position, confronting various family members with HIS version of ‘The Real World ‘as remembered and recorded in his writings now in the form of a play about to be performed to another audience? A ‘spectacle’1 if we think of the Greek notion of theatre.

Is it the fantasy of Madeleine 1, the young and hopeful wife, wanting to explode and break out of the confines of a (subtly) abusive marriage? A fantasy glimpsed and portrayed by a son too quick to chastize and demand and whose lack of perspective provokes his anger and shortsightedness in the face of the complexities of family dynamics?

Or is it the reality of Madeleine 2, the more mature mother who has chosen to deny reality in order to make peace with her unhappiness, cutting and pasting the facts in order to obliterate the painful reality of her husband and the trap of marriage in French Canadian Quebec in the fifties?

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