Human Sacrifice and Chill: A Look at "The Secret Room" by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Every once in awhile I flip through the anthologies I have from college. Every once in awhile I also come across a short story that was assigned reading, and I think about what my professor had to say on said story. But sometimes I didn’t agree with what my professor had to say. That’s why I’m here to tell you that “The Secret Room” by Alain Robbe-Grillet isn’t about a murder; it’s about human sacrifice.
Side not, I’ve realized that I have an unofficial series going on. There are two other posts in which I give weird/different ways to read a short story. Those are here and here if you are curious as to which posts I am referring to; they’re a fun time. Send me name suggestions for this series. Right now the best I’ve come up with is Hannah Hot Takes. Please, send me suggestions because I desperately need them.
Anyway, back to this human sacrifice. So when I first read this back in college, in the good ole pre-Covid days, my professor asked the class what “The Secret Room” was about. I was the only one to respond and my answer was human sacrifice. My response was partially a joke, partially a serious answer. Everyone laughed which was fine, but take five minutes to read “The Secret Room” and then report back to me. Now tell me the opulent descriptions of this secret room don’t make you think this death took place in a church, in an unknown time when human sacrifices could have been part of the religion or, alternatively, some demonic ritual was taking place in a place of worship.
To back up my theory that this story is set in a church, Robbe-Grillet focuses a lot on the columns that exist in the setting. You know what places have a lot of columns? Churches. Those places have lavishly designed columns like the ones described throughout this short story. Also described in this short story are lit incense burners. Again, what places have incense burners? Churches. Overall the setting has a very gothic feel to it and you can’t convince me otherwise that this victim was not killed in a church. And these two examples are just the tip of the iceberg, there are so many other descriptions in the story that can confirm the church setting.
When it comes to the man who committed the sacrifice, he’s a bit of a cartoon villain with a cape. Seriously, Robbe-Grillet places a lot of focus on this man’s cape; it’s practically a character in its own right. While I’m kinda treating this character as a joke with his cape, but the descriptions of him make the character feel like he’s someone in a position of power. To me these descriptions point to the man being the head of some cult or religion.
For example, this man is dressed in silks, the lining of the cape is done in red silk and it has some gold embroidery and an ornate clasp on the waist. Now I don’t know much, but I do know fashion. And more specifically, how fashion is a reflection of a person. The way this man is dressed screams that he has power, or he wants power. The material selection also shows that this man is high class; that red silk ain’t cheap. The fact that he’s rich doesn’t factor too much into proving that this man is leader of a cult that does human sacrifices, but it does add to the fact that he has power. Money equals power, it’s unfortunately how the world works.
When it comes to his physical appearance, there isn’t much said. Robbe-Grillet makes more note about the emotion on his face than what shaped eyes and nose this man has. Speaking of emotions, this killer is slightly scared of being caught. He’s tense and doesn’t want anyone to find him near the body. He wants someone to find this body, he did this sacrifice in a religious building after all, but he can’t be caught; thus adding to the idea he’s either a powerful person or at least a well known person.
So far, all I’ve done is scream that the man who committed the sacrifice is rich and powerful and that the incident also took place in a church. I’m not necessarily mad at myself for doing such, but I can hear someone yelling in the distance that I haven’t proved that this murder was indeed a human sacrifice. For that, I turn back to the descriptions of the setting.
According to Robbe-Grillet, the woman who has been murdered lays on a bed of velvet. I imagine that she’s on some velvet carpet, but there are also cushions or pillows around her upper body as well. And deep within this comfortable looking, opulent room, there lies an iron chain that keeps this poor woman in the room. She doesn’t want to be this sacrifice, but she sadly is.
The items in this room seem very deliberate. That chain has been hammered into the wall. Velvet carpet is not something that most places have. That’s not a feature you see when you walk into a new friend’s home. Not every object in the room is pointed out so there is no telling exactly what may be used in the ritual, but everything pointed out does feel very deliberate. This wasn’t something that was a spur of the moment incident, this was planned.
So what happens when all my points come together? We have a planned killing by a powerful man that occurred in a place of worship. To me, something more is going on here. Everything feels too deliberate. That chain was just chilling there before this man decided to kill this woman; that chain was waiting for the next victim.
This killing was something more than just a murder. The way the victim was laid out was too deliberate. The way this woman was murdered too deliberate as well. The stab wounds don’t mar the woman’s features, and she’s laid out too perfectly.
The fact that this incident takes place in a church is what really hones the human sacrifice in for me. This isn’t a church that practices Christianity or Lutheranism. This isn’t a synagogue nor is it mosque. Nay, nay I say. This was the victim of human sacrifice in a church that practices human sacrifices. This powerful was the leader of this said church. There is no changing my mind in this matter. "The Secret Room" is about more than just a murder; this is the story of a human sacrifice.
Now that I’ve screamed at you sufficiently today, I’ll see you next week with an actual review of a book that has no mentions of human sacrifice. See ya next week!