[(essay date 1990) In the following essay, Socken reads Spring Tides as a novel that uses biblical creation myths for ironic purposes, creating a parody of divine destruction, not creation, by European cultures. Socken contends that Poulin contrasts the dehumanizing nature of European culture with native mythology, which represents what the author considers a cyclical, not destructive, vision of life.]
Les Grandes marées pits a modern, verbal, intellectual, and collective culture against a primitive, non-verbal, instinctive, and individualistic one. The first is inherently superficial and implies the victory of technology over humanism; the second is ostensibly at its mercy and rendered impotent. An initial reading, therefore, reveals a scathing satire of contemporary society. A closer examination, however, gives pause for further reflection.
The surface structure of the novel is clearly an ironic version of the biblical story of creation. There is also a deeper structure, a reprise of primitive non-biblical myths of creation, which suggests a second level of meaning.
The parallels to the biblical text are numerous and apparent. The general situation itself mirrors the biblical account: a superior—a man’s boss—takes a certain young man by helicopter to an island he owns and leaves him there, alone, where he hopes his employee, called Teddy Bear, will be happy. The boss, known only as le Patron, comes from Le Soleil (a newspaper he owns). Eventually, he brings him a young female companion and, later, other people with whom he is to share the island.
The chapters are numbered, like the Bible story, and code names (“nom de code,” p. 9)1 and signs (“Des signes derrière le vitre,” p. 9) suggest hidden meaning and invite interpretation. Names such as Matousalem, Hagar, and Eden (p. 149) are transparently biblical. The novel contains parables, like the Bible, in the form of a poem (chap. 40), and allegories (the whale and the squid in chapter 39, and the treasure chest in chapter 26). The language, too, is biblical in tone (“Au commencement, il était seul dans l’îsle,” p. 9), with many specific borrowings (“le paradis terrestre,” pp. 14, 34; and “La Terre promise,” p. 171). Finally, the novel ends with an exile, as the young man is banished from the island, echoing the Bible story of Adam’s fall from grace.
What is striking about the novel, however, is not so much the similarities with the Bible, as the irony that creates a critical distance between the two accounts. The effect is to deflate the grandeur and majesty associated with the biblical text.
The boss is clearly not God, as he himself affirms: “Je ne me prends pas pour Dieu le Père …” (p. 54). The Patron’s humble disclaimer is superfluous, as the narrator’s description of him at the beginning of the novel had made abundantly clear: “Court de taille, pansu et chauve, il marchait à grandes enjambées, le regard fixé au sol, le visage empourpré, et il croisa son employé sans le voir” (p. 10). One of the later inhabitants of the...