Notes_from_the_underground Essay, Research Paper
In Tartuffe, Orgon illustrates what happens when we allow society’s image of our lives to dictate our own self-image. In the 1600’s a society existed in which social conventions held individuals more responsible for their public images than for their private lives. Individuals were deemed worthy or unworthy by the image they projected in their public lives. Orgon had shown himself to be worthy to society by having supported the kingdom in a civil war, “By these decrees, our Prince rewards you for / Your loyal deeds in the late civil war,”. (5.7.79 – 80) However, Orgon recognized that he had tarnished his public image and made questionable his loyalty to the kingdom by accepting and secretly hidden private papers of a friend that had been exiled. “My poor friend Argas brought that box to me / With his own hands, in utmost secrecy; / ‘Twas on the very morning of his flight. / It’s full of papers which, if they came to light, / Would ruin him – or such is my impression.” (5.1.7 – 11) Orgon felt great guilt due to this presumed indiscretion, “Those papers vexed my conscience.” (5.1.13) His image of how society viewed him had lessened and his self image followed suit. Image being everything the damage must be repaired.
In an attempt to assuage his guilt and regain his loyal image to society, Orgon befriended Tartuffe, who he believed to be held in high esteem by the church. Orgon’s first encounter with Tartuffe was at the church. “He used to come into our church each day / And humbly kneel nearby, and start to pray.” (1.5.25 – 26) I think that Orgon was more taken with what he perceived to be the reaction of others present than he was with the actions of Tartuffe. “He’d draw the eyes of everybody there / By the deep fervor of his heartfelt prayer.” (1.5.27 – 28) Orgon performed acts for the sake of his audience and openly gave gifts to Tartuffe, “I gave him gifts, but in his humbleness / He’d beg me every time to give him less.” (1.5.35 – 36) Tartuffe performed his own acts for the benefit of the audience. Orgon stated, “And when I wouldn’t take it back, he’d share / Half of it with the poor, right then and there.” (1.5.39 – 40) There is no mention of others bestowing gifts upon Tartuffe nor is there any mention of others receiving special treatment from him. Orgon told Cleante that, “And when I rose to go, he’d run before / To offer me holy-water at the door.” (1.5.31 – 32)
Tartuffe must have realized that Orgon was eagerly attempting to impress society and even that Orgon was keeping a secret he felt guilt over. Tartuffe was soon invited to live in the home of Orgon who believed of Tartuffe that, “ There’s been no loftier souls since time began.” (1.5.13) Tartuffe had Orgon’s complete confidence and loyalty. Orgon told Cleante, his brother-in-law, of the secret papers, “and it seemed best / To ask counsel of my pious guest.” (5.1.33 – 35) Orgon confessed his secret of Argas’ private papers to Tartuffe. Orgon was then convinced to leave the strong box with his confidant. “The cunning scoundrel got me to agree / To leave the strong-box in his custody.” (5.1.15 – 16)
What had begun as an attempt to better his standing in the community in case the papers were discovered, backfired on Orgon, as he lost his will and took on that of Tartuffe. Orgon was totally swayed by Tartuffe, “To keep his precepts is to be reborn, / And view this dunghill of a world with scorn. / Yes, thanks to him I’m a changed man indeed, Under his tutelage my soul’s been freed / From earthly love, and every human tie: / My mother, children, brother, and wife could die, / And I’d not feel a moments pain.” (1.5.15 – 21) Orgon was so vexed by Tartuffe that he disowned his only born son and made Tartuffe his only heir. “This very day, I’ll give to you alone / clear deed and title to everything I own.” (3.7.37 – 38)
Had Orgon trusted and cared more for his family, he may have been spared the complete humiliation he suffered at the hands of Tartuffe. His family had come second to his public image. Even after believing he had lost all his possessions the thing he was most worried about was, “That strong-box has me utterly upset; / This is the worst of many, many shocks.” (5.1.4 – 5) The image-tarnishing secret was out. In the end everyone in town knew of the papers and of Orgon’s being completely duped by Tartuffe.
In the 2000’s a society exists in which social conventions hold individuals more responsible for their public images than for their private lives. An individual is deemed worthy or unworthy by the image they project in their public lives. This is true now as it was then, only in the eyes of the beholder. One can live one’s life to the specifications of society if that is his/her choice.
Moliere, Jean – Baptiste Poquelin. Tartuffe. Reprinted in The Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition. Seventh Edition, Volume 2. Edited by Sarah Lawall, et.al. NY: Norton and Co., 1999, 11- 68