Boule de Suif
Boule de Suif is the title character of Maupassant’s short story. She is one of ten passengers in a coach, bound for Le Havre, which is leaving Rouen to flee from the advancing German army. She is traveling alone. Her birth name is Mademoiselle Élisabeth Rousset; however, it is her appearance that has earned her the nickname, Boule de Suif, or in English ‘‘Ball of Fat.’’ Boule de Suif is a short, perfectly round, fat little woman with plump, sausage-like fingers, shiny skin, and enormous breasts. Her face is reddish and round with black eyes and large lashes, a small mouth with nice lips, and tiny teeth. Boule de Suif carries herself with dignity and a freshness that makes her attractive and desirable. It is well known that she is a prostitute, and although she is sought after, her seemingly honorable travel companions deem her an immoral woman, even though she helps them on several occasions. Without Boule de Suif as their companion, the entourage would have suffered greatly, as they all forgot to bring provisions for the long trip. During the first leg of the journey, the sophisticated prostitute provided her condescending companions with food and drink when the group was near fainting from hunger. Next, in Tôtes, which was already occupied by Germans, Boule de Suif compromised her own categorical imperative—not to have sex with a man against her own wishes—and slept with the Prussian commandant to free herself and her companions. If she had not made such a utilitarian sacrifice or, even worse, if she had not been on the coach at all, then there was a chance that the German officers would have kept them indefinitely in Tôtes or possibly even raped the female travelers. Boule de Suif is emotionally damaged from the event that saved her companions, but she is even more deeply hurt when they turn against her, once again regarding her and her actions as immoral: On the trip out of Tôtes, Boule de Suif is hurried and does not have time to pack provisions, but none of the other passengers will share food with her, speak with her, or thank her in any way.
Madame Carré-Lamadon is one of the ten travelers aboard the coach bound for Le Havre. Her husband and companion is Monsieur Carré-Lamadon. Madame Carré-Lamadon is a small, dainty, pretty woman who is much younger than her husband. The officers in Rouen were comforted by her beauty and presence. In the coach, dressed in furs, the young wife faints from hunger, only to be rescued by the two nuns and a glass of Boule de Suif’s claret.
Monsieur Carré-Lamadon is one of the ten travelers in the coach bound for Le Havre. He is traveling with his wife, Madame Carré-Lamadon. He, like the Comte, is a member of the superior social class. Monsieur Carré-Lamadon holds a substantial position in the cotton business, owning three spinning-mills. In addition, he is a member of the Legion of Honour and the General Council, where he serves with Comte Hubert.
The coachman is the driver of the coach containing the ten passengers leaving from Rouen for Le Havre. The driver does little besides navigate the coach to Tôtes. After they spend one night in Tôtes, the Prussian commandant tells the coachman that the travelers are not allowed to leave. The travelers are disturbed by this news and the coachman tells them that he has been instructed to stay in Tôtes until the commandant says otherwise. After this, the coachman is nonexistent until the travelers are granted leave from Tôtes four days later.
Cornudet is one of the ten travelers aboard the coach bound for Le Havre. He is traveling alone. He is a well-known democrat, and thus his liberal and social beliefs are a threat to all respectable people, such as the Carré-Lamadons, Hubert de Brévilles, and the Loiseaus. He has a long red beard and loves to drink beer. Cornudet has spent a good portion of his fortune inherited from his father, a retired confectioner. Although he is a democrat who professes to be eagerly awaiting the coming republic, Cornudet is quite lazy, politically active only in that he frequents democratic bars. For some unknown reason, he believed that he had been recently appointed prefect. Yet when he tried to take up duties, no one recognized his position, and he was forced out of the office. Cornudet is generally quite harmless and accommodating and is a thoroughly kindhearted man. In Rouen he worked to organize the fortification of the town, and upon leaving he hopes his skills can be used in Le Havre. Throughout the story, Cornudet is in verbal opposition with the respectable men and women with whom he is traveling. He disagrees with their politics and their social views. During the first night in Tôtes, Cornudet tries to persuade Boule de Suif to sleep with him. She refuses his advances because she believes it would be shameful with all the Prussians about. Given this patriotic spin, Cornudet complies, kisses Boule de Suif on the cheek, and returns to his room. Cornudet is the only one of all the travelers that is unflinchingly outspoken about the shameful act of coercion the travelers impose on Boule de Suif in forcing her to have sex with the commandant to benefit their own desires. Yet, in the end, even Cornudet, like the others, denies Boule de Suif food,...
(The entire section is 2200 words.)
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