Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“Boule de Suif” is primarily a study of character: an objective account of how people can be kind when it is easy to be so but selfish and mean when they must endure even the most temporary of personal privations.
The coach making its way to the port is, in effect, a ship of fools and knaves. Guy de Maupassant himself tells the reader that the passengers represent “Society,” a cross section of humanity, the middle class of steady virtue, smugly riding to their destination. Boule de Suif is also part of the cross section. Of strong peasant stock, she is as easy, as free with her public virtue as her fellow passengers are sternly covetous of theirs. In fact, the power of “Boule de Suif” is achieved thematically by a contrast between the public virtue practiced by the majority and the private, personal morality that only Boule de Suif truly possesses. Publicly, the characters are solid bourgeois playing the role society expects of them, even showing their “democratic” spirit when sharing Boule de Suif’s lunch. They have already condemned her, nevertheless, because, as a prostitute, Boule de Suif has publicly played her expected role as well. In the privacy of their cabal, and in their hearts, they are as corrupt as the public image they perceive to be Boule de Suif. Their plot is demoniacally brilliant, depending as it does on the cooperation of all the members of the group—society—and appealing to the various forms of public virtue,...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
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Maupassant is a French author from the naturalist school of thought. Naturalism in literature describes a type of work that tries to apply analytic principles of objectivity and separation to the literary study of the human being. In opposition to realism, which focuses on technique, the naturalist author takes a philosophic position. The objects of study, human beings, are creatures that can be studied through their relationships to their surroundings. Maupassant’s characters are no exception. Boule de Suif is understood not through her inner thoughts and feelings, but through her actual words and actions. She is revealed through Maupassant’s ability to report details that create an insightful depiction of the prostitute. Her inner thoughts are unneeded because all of her being is available through her relationship to others and her environment. Through this type of objective study, naturalist authors believe that the underlying forces that reign over human beings may be unearthed. Maupassant was incredibly adept at this type of revelation because of his photographic memory and keen ability to express and depict scenes and dialogue with exceptional clarity.
Social Order and Scandal
Maupassant uses the social order to create a hierarchy inside the coach. The entourage is composed of differing social orders: two nuns, a prostitute, a democrat, and respectable, socially elite individuals. The nuns are dedicated to...
(The entire section is 691 words.)