Acte gratuit is a sudden, senseless, impulsive and spontaneous act. No reason is given for such an action, and it has no purpose. Often the act is criminal and violent criminal, although this is not always the case. In French literature, such an acte gratuit can often be interpreted as a sign of symbolic rebellion against determinism. The term determinism is that events – both past and future – are already defined and not influenced by preconditions. The acte gratuit follows a spontaneous inspiration.
The word sequence comes from French and can be translated with arbitrary action. Such an act is sometimes found among the protagonists of modern French literature, as in the novels of the French Nobel Prize for Literature, André Gide (1869-1951). Gide himself describes such an act also as l’acte autochtone. The Prometheus (1899) writes:
[…] l’acte aussisans but; donc sans maître; l’acte libre; l’Acte autochtone?
Translation: […] the act without goal, that is, without Lord; the free deed; the autochthonous act
What is meant by the phrase is an identical content, as portrayed by Gide himself in his novel The Dungeons of the Vatican (1914). In the Lafcadio section, Lafcadio is the name given to the train. Shortly after Rome, Amédée enters the compartment where Lafcadio is sitting alone. They do not know each other. Lafcadio, who is looking for an adventure, comes up with the idea that a crime would be entertaining, and Amédée suddenly falls from the moving train to death. This act is therefore impulsive and pointless.
Short overview: The most important overview
Acte gratuit is a meaningless, impulsive, spontaneous and usually violent and criminal act. This is completely unmotivated to the reader, although no reason or motive is given for them in the course of history.
Nevertheless, such an act has, of course, an effect: it breaks with the expectation, and therefore insists on the fact that all processes and events are either already fixed in advance (determinism) or have any effective cause (causality).
Note: These acts can also be found in numerous other works, such as Jean-Paul Satre (Der Ekel, French La nausée) or Albert Camus (The Stranger, French L’Étranger). They are characteristic of modern French literature.