The 400 Blows (1959)

Brief Intro

“The 400 Blows” (Les Quatre Cents Coups) is a 1959 French New Wave film directed by François Truffaut. The film is a semi-autobiographical account of Truffaut’s own childhood and follows the story of Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris. Through its innovative narrative style and emotional depth, “The 400 Blows” captures the trials of youth and the struggle against societal constraints.

Literary Devices Used in The 400 Blows

1. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
Antoine stealing the typewriterThe typewriter symbolizes Antoine’s desperate cry for attention and rebellion against societal norms.
The amusement park rideThe spinning ride symbolizes Antoine’s chaotic life and his loss of control.

2. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
Antoine skipping schoolThis scene hints at Antoine’s escalating rebellion and eventual run-ins with authority.
Antoine’s interactions with the psychologistThese interactions foreshadow his deeper psychological issues and sense of alienation.

3. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
Antoine’s arrestIt’s ironic that Antoine is arrested for a minor crime while his larger, emotional struggles go unnoticed.
Antoine’s parents’ concernThe irony lies in the parents’ sudden concern for Antoine after neglecting him for so long.

4. Imagery

Movie SceneDevice Example
The sea at the endThe imagery of the sea represents freedom and the unknown future awaiting Antoine.
Parisian streetsThe vivid depiction of Paris adds to the authenticity and atmosphere of Antoine’s experiences.

5. Motif

Movie SceneDevice Example
Running scenesAntoine’s frequent running symbolizes his desire to escape his oppressive environment.
Classroom scenesRepeated scenes in school highlight the oppressive and monotonous nature of institutional education.

6. Juxtaposition

Movie SceneDevice Example
Antoine’s home vs. schoolThe contrast between these environments underscores his lack of a safe, supportive space.
Happy families in the backgroundJuxtaposed with Antoine’s dysfunctional family life, this highlights his sense of alienation.

7. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
The puppet showThe puppet show metaphorically represents Antoine’s lack of control over his life, as if he’s a puppet in the hands of fate.
Antoine’s cageWhen Antoine is placed in the juvenile detention center, it serves as a metaphor for his entrapment by society.

8. Allusion

Movie SceneDevice Example
Reference to BalzacAntoine’s admiration for Balzac reflects his yearning for a different, more meaningful life.
The jail sceneAlludes to the harsh realities faced by many adolescents in the justice system.

9. Hyperbole

Movie SceneDevice Example
Antoine’s dramatic escapeHis exaggerated escape attempts underline his desperation and the extremity of his situation.
The argument with his parentsThe heightened emotions in these scenes emphasize the dysfunctional family dynamics.

10. Allegory

Movie SceneDevice Example
Antoine’s final run to the seaRepresents the journey from innocence to experience and the quest for freedom.
The broken typewriterAllegorically represents Antoine’s broken life and thwarted communication with the world.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Antoine Doinel

SymbolismAntoine’s recurrent running is symbolic of his constant search for freedom and escape from his oppressive surroundings.
ForeshadowingEarly scenes of Antoine’s truancy hint at his increasing rebellion and eventual downfall.

Julien Doinel (Antoine’s father)

IronyJulien’s sudden attempts to discipline Antoine are ironic given his prior neglect.
JuxtapositionHis erratic behavior is juxtaposed with his role as a father, highlighting his inadequacy.

Gilberte Doinel (Antoine’s mother)

IronyHer sporadic concern for Antoine is ironic, considering her usual neglect and selfishness.
MetaphorHer affair symbolizes the lack of moral integrity and emotional stability in Antoine’s home life.

Character Dynamics

Character RelationshipAnalysis
Antoine and his parentsThe strained and complex dynamics reveal the neglect and misunderstanding that drive Antoine’s actions.
Antoine and RenéTheir friendship underscores themes of loyalty and the shared struggle against oppressive adults.

Thematic Analysis

Alienation and Isolation

SymbolismAntoine’s repeated running away symbolizes his deep sense of alienation.
ImageryThe stark, cold imagery of the detention center accentuates his isolation.

Rebellion Against Authority

MotifThe motif of Antoine’s defiance in various forms, such as skipping school and stealing, highlights his rebellion.
ForeshadowingEarly signs of Antoine’s rebellious nature predict his later, more drastic actions against authority.

Search for Identity

AllegoryAntoine’s journey to the sea at the end of the film represents his search for identity and freedom.
AllusionReferences to literary figures like Balzac reflect Antoine’s quest for meaning and self-discovery.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Visual and Sound Techniques

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismCinematographyThe use of long takes and wide shots emphasizes Antoine’s loneliness and smallness in a vast world.
ImagerySound designThe diegetic sounds of Parisian streets enhance the vivid imagery of Antoine’s environment.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene Selection

Opening Scene

Escape to the Sea


Interactive Multiple Choice Quiz

1. What literary device is used when Antoine steals the typewriter? a) Metaphor
b) Symbolism
c) Hyperbole

2. Which theme is highlighted through the motif of Antoine running? a) Alienation
b) Friendship
c) Humor

3. How is irony depicted in the character of Julien Doinel? a) His sudden concern for Antoine
b) His consistent support for Antoine
c) His lack of interest in Antoine’s education

4. What does the final scene at the sea represent? a) Antoine’s love for the ocean
b) Antoine’s journey to freedom and self-discovery
c) Antoine’s fear of water

5. Which cinematic technique complements the literary device of imagery in the film? a) Dialogue
b) Cinematography
c) Music