Man’s Fate Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La Condition humaine, 1933 (English translation, 1934)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1927

Locale: Shanghai, China

Characters DiscussedCh’en

Ch’en Man’s Fate (shehn), a Chinese terrorist dedicated to the revolution. In an attempt to kill Chiang Kai-shek with a bomb, he blows himself up but fails in his mission.


Kyo (kyoh), a communist organizer of French and Japanese parentage. He is tormented by thoughts of his wife’s freely confessed adultery. Arrested by König, he kills himself with a cyanide tablet given him by Katov.


Gisors (zhee-SOHR), Kyo’s old French father, who resembles an ascetic abbot. After the revolutionary plot fails, he returns to Japan to teach painting.


May, Kyo’s sensual German wife, a physician with advanced views on marriage relationships. The communist plot having failed and Kyo being dead, she goes to Moscow to practice medicine.

Baron de Clappique

Baron de Clappique (deh klah-PEEK), a French adventurer and unscrupulous businessman; König’s friend who permits Kyo to be arrested instead of warning him to hide. The baron, in disguise, escapes China on a French ship.


Katov (kah-TOHV), an experienced Russian revolutionist and former convict. His kindly face, mischievous eyes, and upturned nose do not reveal his coldly murderous nature. Arrested by König, he generously gives Kyo the cyanide tablet he has provided for himself, and he is executed.


Hemmelrich (ay-mehl-REEK), a cowardly German revolutionist whose wife and child are killed in the destruction of his shop by Chiang’s police, who later shoot Hemmelrich.


Ferral (feh-RAHL), a French businessman who decides to support Chiang. Angered by Valérie’s duplicity, he releases forty birds and a kangaroo in her room. He returns to France on the liner that also takes the baron.


König (koo-NEEG), chief of Chiang’s police, who foils the communist plot and executes the revolutionary group.

Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shek (shyahng kay-chehk), leader of the Blue forces.


Valérie (vah-lay-REE), Ferral’s deceitful mistress.

Bibliography:Boak, Denis. “La Condition humaine.” In André Malraux. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1968. A judicious consideration of the novel within the perspective of Malraux’s development as a writer. Emphasizes its metaphysical rather than political aspects. Detailed consideration of imagery and characterization.Chua, Cheng Lok. “The International Theme in André Malraux’s Asian Novels.” Modern Language Quarterly 39, no. 2 (June, 1978): 169-182. An Asian’s view of Malraux’s Asian novels, especially Man’s Fate. Discusses Malraux’s cross-fertilization of the European values of individualism and will with Asian values of communal identity and harmony, and his use of irony in plot to create tragic protagonists.Frohock, W. M. André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1952. Classic consideration of Malraux’s fictional canon. The chapter on Man’s Fate analyzes Malraux’s style, the rhythm and pattern of the novel’s action, its characterization, and the thematic and aesthetic effects of the characters’ fates.Hiddleston, J. A. Malraux: La Condition humaine. London: Edward Arnold, 1973. Useful but somewhat critical of Malraux. Focuses on Malraux’s concern with the individual’s ability to question the world, which leads to his characters’ recurrent dilemma of whether to be or to do. Organized into two sections, the first dealing with characters and themes, the second with thought and form. Quite brief.Leefmans, Bert M.-P. “Malraux and Tragedy: The Structure of La Condition humaine.” Romanic Review 44, no. 3 (October, 1953): 208-214. Pioneering analysis of the formal structure of Man’s Fate. Shows the seven parts of the novel’s action conforming to the classic rise and fall of tragedy, developing in the equally classic pattern of purpose, passion, and perception.
Categories: Characters