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Nearly all of Guy de Maupassant's short stories are set in rural Normandy, on the northeastern coast of France. The village of Goderville, Maitre Hauchecorne's home in "A Piece of String," is an actual place, located in Upper Normandy, between La Havre and Rouen, and not far from the River Seine. It is an ancient village, established in the 9th century. (The population in 2006 was about 2,800). The town market is located in the main square, and there is a tavern, Jourdain's, and a mayor's office. The story itself is set in the 1880s.
“The Piece of String” takes place in the village of Goderville, in Normandy, northern France. The majority of the action takes place on market day, in the public square of the town. Guy de Maupassant gives the reader a plethora of sensory information to relay the hustle and bustle of a central market; we have imagery of a huge crowd of men and women, peasants from the countryside, coming into town on the dirt roads, bent beneath their wares and herding farm animals, carrying ducks and chickens, jolting along in wagons. De Maupassant writes of “the clamorous, shrill, screaming voices” that “made a continuous and savage din,” and everything “smacked of the stable, the dairy and the dirt heap, hay and sweat, giving forth that unpleasant odor, human and animal, peculiar to the people of the field.” So here we have a very busy, crowded square, with everywhere people shouting and bargaining, animals squawking and lowing, feet trampling the ground and the sheer volume of beings generally smelling up the place. It is in this setting that our protagonist, Maître Hauchecome of Breaute, finds a piece of string in the dirt, which he picks up; this action leads to him being accused of picking up a lost wallet full of cash, a smear that he cannot escape to the end of his days.
The rest of the story—Hauchecome’s accusation and continuous protestations—takes place in various places in the village: Maître Jourdain’s tavern, the mayor’s office, market day the following week, and Hauchecome’s own home. The main setting, however, is the public square of Goderville, where, despite the throngs of people and the enormous level of activity, not even the simple act of picking up a piece of string may go unnoticed.
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