De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period
Foreignness and 'The Other' Theme
Foreignness was certainly a big theme in 1939, when "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" is set. World War II involved a lot of fear of people from other places. This theme recurs throughout the novel, often by showing Jean both resisting and falling into stereotyping foreigners. For example, he obviously admires the M. Yoshoto, yet he can't help looking at him through the lens of the racist novels featuring the so-called Chinese character, Fu Manchu.
Jean also has the experience of being a foreigner himself. He moved to Paris from New York City in 1930 (with his parents) and stayed for nine years. Back in New York City in 1939, Jean longs for Paris, and feels like a foreigner in America. He can't go back to Paris, but he can do the next best thing – go to French speaking Canada, where he is again a foreigner. It is in this foreign setting that Jean is able to break out of his rut of isolation.
Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'
- Why does Jean love Paris and French so much?
- How does Jean feel about people from cultures other than his own?
- What do you think of Jean's portrayal of M. and Mme. Yoshoto? Are there any stereotypes at work here? If so, what are they, and why are they used in the story?
- Does this theme have anything to do with the historical events of 1939, or with World War II in general?
Chew on This
Through the Yoshotos, "Blue Period" shows empathy for the plight of the Japanese during Word War II.
Jean's stereotypical portrayal of the Yoshotos suggests that he was a product of racist propaganda.
Since Jean's life-changing experiences happen in a foreign setting, the story suggests that we can only learn by experiencing the unfamiliar.