How to make an analysis with his story, The Grave?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maupassant's morbid story "The Grave" shows the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories and poetry made a strong impression on the French, particularly on Charles Baudelaire, who published many of the American genius's works in translation and spread his fame throughout Europe. The obvious, or manifest,  meaning of Maupassant's story is that a man's love can be so powerful that it outlasts the death of the loved one. But Maupassant has a fourth dimension to his story. He is more of a realist, a pessimist, and a cynic than Poe. He is saying that beauty is a very perishable thing. Even the most beautiful woman is subject to decay and death. The romantic lover Courbataille discovers this truth when he goes to the extreme measure of digging up his loved one's corpse.

The story is effective because of the contrast between the description of the lawyer's sweetheart when she was young--"so warm, so sweet, so white, so lovely"--and the description of her body after it had been buried for only a short time. "Her face was blue, swollen, frightful. A black liquid had oozed out of her mouth....All night I have retained the foul odor of this putrid body, the odor of my well beloved, as one retains the perfume of a woman after a love embrace."

Maupassant made the ghoulish grave-robber a lawyer. a well-educated and articulate man, so that his eloquence (which, of course, was Maupassant's own eloquence) would seem realistic when he defended himself in the courtroom. The message of the story is not that true love lasts forever, which is implicit in some of Poe's stories and poems, including his famous "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee," but that nothing lasts forever, especially youth, beauty and love. Courbataille made the mistake of trying to hold on to something when he should have let it go.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since I wrote the above answer to the question about Maupassant's story "The Grave," I have been reminded of several other stories in which a similar theme has appeared. Possibly all of them were influenced by "The Grave," since all of them came later.

In the classic movie  Lost Horizon  (1937) the protagonist's brother falls in love with a beautiful woman who appears to be quite young. He flees with her from Shangri La although his brother (played by Ronald Colman) warns him that the woman is actually over a hundred years old. Out on the snow-packed mountainside the woman's face begins to wither and her hair begins to turn white. When her lover realizes what is happening he appears to go mad, and he dies in an avalanche.

In the movie  The Shining  (1980)  based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, the character played by Jack Nicholson finds a beautiful naked woman in one of the bathrooms in this supposedly vacant hotel. As he is holding her in his arms, he sees that her flesh if rapidly rotting away and that he is actually holding a corpse and a ghost.

Perhaps the work most closely resembling Maupassant's "The Grave" is William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily." In that story a woman refuses to relinquish the corpse of her lover after she has poisoned him, and she sleeps with him for many years while he is rotting away and turning into a skeleton.