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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