Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Two Little Soldiers” relies heavily on setting and point of view for its effectiveness. The pastoral surroundings in which the majority of the action takes place suggest serenity and appear to promise happiness. Maupassant is careful not to reveal too much of barracks life; only its regimentation intrudes on the story, adding to the sense of release the two soldiers feel when they escape to the countryside each weekend. The idyllic setting is no escape from the harsh realities of the world, however, as the reader discovers when Jean is cast aside by the two people who mean the most to him.

Perhaps the most significant technique that allows Maupassant to make his tragedy hit home with readers is his manipulation of the point of view. Though the action of the story appears to be continuous, “Two Little Soldiers” can actually be viewed as a series of dramatic scenes, and the point of view shifts as scenes change. For much of the story, Maupassant adopts what appears to be the voice of an omniscient narrator. He tells the reader what both soldiers think and do, giving each equal attention. Because he appears to be providing simple and straightforward information, it is easy to pass over the fact that he says almost nothing about what the young girl feels or thinks in these first encounters.

Then, at key points, Maupassant adopts a more limited view: When Luc decides to go on leave, and when the two soldiers travel to the countryside for the last time, he restricts himself to the viewpoint of one character, Jean. The reader sees only the confusion that wells up in this young man as his friend and the girl go off without him. When the two soldiers begin their trek back to the barracks, the scene is viewed through Luc’s eyes: The reader is denied knowledge of Jean’s feelings, and hence is given no explanation of his motivation for committing suicide.

This technique may lead to charges of poor writing; certainly Maupassant does not follow the tenet of many proponents of the school of realism that point of view should be consistent throughout a story, novel, or poem. Nevertheless, the author’s conscious decision to move selectively between characters is directly responsible for the aura that he wished to create in this tragedy of the common man.