The Pastoral Symphony is an ironical novel, written as a book of criticism and one of it’s greatest criticisms seems to be the conduct of the Pastor, a character who is not only immoral, inconsiderate and selfish but is also a harsh, judgmental hypocrite of a man. The Pastor’s continued inconsiderate behavior even in the face of the immorality and injustice of his actions is the height of blindness and although Gertrude is the one who is physically blind, the Pastor’s self deception leaves him as the one who is truly blind.
The first aspect of self deception in the novel arises from the Pastor’s status as a pastor: A man of religion. The Pastor chooses to believe what he wants, in spite of being a Pastor, he believes in some parts of the Bible and conveniently avoids others, showing that even his faith is one of ignorance and convenience. Arthur E. Babcock asserts that “The pastor’s dishonesty is to have performed a false reading of the testament” (Babcock 71). The Pastor in his diary, explicitly asks himself “It is diminishing, profaning the Gospel, to see in it above all a method for attaining the happy life” (Gide 53), illustrating how he consciously chooses to think only of verses that reflect on the innocence of love and not on verses that condemn adultery and sin. In spite of being a Pastor and being well aware of what Christianity thinks of adultery and fornication, the Pastor not only has an extra marital affair but sexually exploits a minor, and a blind girl at that, a girl who asks him “Then you admit our love is outside the laws of God” (Gide 62) and still fails to awaken any regret within him as he in response asks, “You think your love is wrong?” the “Your” instead of “our” allowing him to effectively disassociate with what is perceived to be wrong here. The worrisome truth is that the Pastor is knowledgeable of his despicable nature of
his actions and it is assertions like the one mentioned above that makes one realize that his reluctance to realize that what he is doing goes against everything religion stands for is an act of active self deception.
Another aspect of the Pastor’s self deception and hypocrisy is his anger over Jacques’s affection for Gertrude, anger that he interprets as concern while it is in fact, jealousy. “I will not suffer you to speak to her, to touch her, to see her for one single day more”(Gide 39) are his exact words to Jacques, words that effectively illustrate that the Pastor’s feelings for Gertrude are in fact those of a lover and his reaction exhibits his jealousy over Jacques even touching Gertrude. Similarly, “Was it not in itself strange that she should accept instructions and guidance from him, when she had previously refused them from me, preferring she said, to practice by herself? I was more astonished, more pained than I liked to own” (Gide 37), the words “More pained than I liked to own” again showing his awareness of his feelings yet his insistence upon deceiving himself. The height of hypocrisy is shown when the Pastor says: “To abuse infirmity, innocence, candour!” (Gide 39) to Jacques when it is evident that Jacques feels genuine affection and love for Gertrude and wishes to marry her and enter into a legitimate and respectable relationship yet this is regarded as an abuse of innocence by the Pastor in contrast to his own
extra marital adultery with the child.
The Pastor’s self deception is not limited to the immorality of his affair with Gertrude, he is equally ignorant to the suffering of his wife and son because of him. In the beginning of the novel, readers are introduced to the Pastor’s wife as a housewife with many children who has her hands full with work yet she dutifully does it. The Pastor brings a filthy stranger into the woman’s home and after thrusting the vermin covered girl onto his wife, demands that he clean her. He is inconsiderate to the extra work he is creating for his already strained wife and in spite of her occasional complaints, he is aware of her dutiful nature and is not at all uncomfortable in
abusing it for his own benefit. Even when the woman cleans the filthy girl, allows her to live in her house with her children and feeds and clothes her, her occasional, legitimate protests over the lack of attention the Pastor gives to his own children in comparison to Gertrude are met with comments such as “I most suffered from her reproaches” (Gide 23) showing the Pastor’s willingness to cast himself as a poor victim of vindictive reproaches from his inconsiderate wife. Similarly, the Pastor is well aware of the genuine nature of Jacques’s feelings for Gertrude but he does not care at all about his son’s feelings. He is well aware of his son’s nature, the boy never
required scolding or chastising from his father, and surely, the father’s vehement exclamations that he stay away from Gertrude deter him from maintaining any notions of marrying her. This is another example of the Pastor’s ignorance of another person’s feelings in favor of his personal gain and his callous and cruel response to their suffering, a heart that is so cold to his own wife and his son, his flesh and blood, that it too seems blind.
The Pastor also fools himself with delusions of honor and duty when concerning his affair with Gertrude. “If I did not already love her, it would be my duty to love her for pity’s sake; to cease to love her would be to betray her; she needs my love.” (Gide 64) is an example of the Pastor’s opinion of his feelings for her and how important they are. The Pastor exploits Gertrude’s pitiably condition and relishes her dependency on him. He enjoys creating a world for her when she only knows that which he tells her and teaches her about and in a way, he becomes her God. He fashions a world for Gertrude that is just as ignorant of reality as he is, later she regrets that he did not tell her of the sad and dismal realities of life. “ There are a great many things-sad things assuredly0that I can’t see, but you have no right to keep them from me.” (Gide61) Gertrude tells him, “The word is not as beautiful as you have made out” is her main complaint and the irony lies in the fact that the girl who is physically blind can still see reality in a way that the Pastor with his sight, years of experience and knowledge of religion chooses not to
see and unlike him, she does not want to deceive herself. “We can’t all be blind” (Gide 56) is what Amelie says to the Pastor, effectively highlighting how everyone cannot delude themselves to the extent that the Pastor has somehow managed to, complete with the idea that his love for Gertrude is pure, that he is protecting her from the harsh realities of life and that in doing all that he is doing, he is fulfilling some kind of duty he feels he owes her.
“Ironically, it is also the text that betrays him” claims critic in reference to the self deception in The Pastoral Symphony “for the self-conscious elements of his narrative reveal it as artifice. It has been shown that the pastor’s claim of having understood himself only upon reading the first book cannot be accurate, since the first book contains references to a later understanding” (Babcock 70) again exposing another facet to the elaborate self deception that the Pastor participates in where his writing shows that he is conscious of his actions and it is in his active ignorance of them that he in incriminated because that is self deception; to know and to pretend to not know, or to choose to not acknowledge. The tragedy lies in the damage that his actions cause to others, for all his sins “the greatest sin of all, the one which caused the whole tragedy, is the lack of sincerity on the part of the pastor, who always lies to himself, refuses to see any eveil in his acts, justifies himself by quoting the scriptures and even to the end feels no need for repenting. It is the pastor’s self-deceit which kills Gertrude in the end” (Parnell 70). It is then that readers understand the self deceit that pervades the novel and we understand the significance of the words “How happy men would be if they knew nothing of evil!” (Gide 22)
because then they would not have to deceive themselves to such an extent in order to sin and not stir their conscience. It is then evident that The Pastoral Symphony is indeed a study in self deception, which is the central premise of the story: Blindness, physical and metaphorical.