Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In many of Colette’s stories, love, or a semblance thereof, leads to disappointment—not because love is naturally disappointing, but because people mismanage it. In “The Kepi,” the innocent Marco pursues love in the wrong way from the beginning when she refuses to see the distressing usualness of the lieutenant’s letters that Colette perceives. Colette further hints at the problem when Marco pops in one afternoon shortly after first meeting the lieutenant. Because Marco is in high spirits, Colette believes that she has control of the situation and is keeping the liaison in its correct perspective. This is not the case, though, for Marco’s emotions are out of control to the extent that she half-seriously believes her lover has cast a spell on her. This lack of control is symbolized in her weight gain and in her final imprudence with the kepi. Colette intimates that vigilance, perspective, and a measure of self-control, both physically and emotionally, are necessary to maintain love, even more so when one of the parties can no longer rely on youthful attractiveness to gloss over infractions. If Marco’s response to unlooked-for love had been the same gracious equanimity with which she received her financial good fortune, then she may still have lost her love, but not her dignity, Colette seems to say.

Masson’s closing comment, that payment of two sous per line constitutes a “tremendous change” in Marco’s life, reminds the reader ironically of the other “tremendous” (that is, trite) change that Marco underwent, from poised woman to foolish soubrette. Although the narrator implicitly criticizes Marco’s behavior, Colette herself contributes to her friend’s downfall. Fashionable details (“the new ’angel’ hairstyle,” “more nipped-in waistlines,” and “a rosier shade of powder”) preoccupy both the narrator and the character Colette. Becoming more attractive under Colette’s care not only makes Marco more alluring to the opposite sex but also primes the austere and dignified woman to see herself as romantic heroine. The narrator’s tone implies that Marco’s misadventure is the result only of Marco’s poor judgment; Colette never acknowledges her own complicity.