Peasant Lifestyle In Davis´ The Return Of Martin Guerre

1854 words - 7 pages

The Return of Martin Guerre, written by Natalie Zemon Davis, is the tale of a court case that takes place in sixteenth century France. Martin Guerre is a peasant who deserted his wife and family for many years. While Martin Guerre is gone, a man named Arnaud du Tilh arrives at Martin’s village and claims to be Martin Guerre. Bertrande, who is Guerre’s wife, Guerre’s sisters, and many of the villagers, accepts the imposter. After almost three years of being happily married, Bertrande takes the fraud to court under pressure of Pierre Guerre, her stepfather and Guerre’s brother. Arnaud du Tilh is almost declared innocent, but the real Martin Guerre appears in the courthouse. Throughout this tale, many factors of the peasant life are highlighted. The author gives a very effective and detailed insight to a peasant’s life during the time of Martin Guerre. Davis does a successful job of portraying the peasant lifestyle in sixteenth century France by accentuating the social, cultural, and judicial factors of everyday peasant life.
Davis gives various examples of the social norms that peasants lived under during the sixteenth century. When Sanxi, Guerre’s father, and his family decided to leave their village, Davis states that the majority of men who leave their village do so because they “were usually not heir to their family’s property, as was Sanxi Daguerre, but younger brothers who could not or would not remain in the ancestral household” (Davis 6). This highlights the idea that being the heir to the family’s inheritance is a great indicator of how one’s life as a peasant would carry on. It is very likely that if one is the heir, then the individual shall stay at their property and assume the role as head of the household once the “senior ‘lord of the household’” has passed away (Davis 7). Davis comments on the importance of family houses, in peasant society, in particular villages. She states, “so important were these family houses to Basque villagers that each was given a name which the heir and his wife assumed”(Davis 6). Davis is portraying how property had a great importance for peasants of certain villages and how it was a major part of their lives. Davis also mentions in the case of Sanxi that he “could not have sold it easily if he had wanted to, for the Fors-that is, the customs of the Labourd-prohibited the alienation of patrimonial goods except in cases of dire necessity and then only with the consent of other interested kin” (Davis 8). Sanxi’s lack of option to sell his property, unless given approval by other family who are uninterested in the property, shows that in certain villages peasants were concerned with maintaining their property within their family. Davis also contrasts this social norm of family property with explaining the social norms when dealing with property in other villages. Sanxi moved to new village called Artigat. It is stated, “What was really different from the Basque country was the way the land moved, both in...

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