Please discuss Maupassant's use of irony in his story, "Boule de Suif." What kind of irony is used to serve a certain purpose?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist of Guy de Maupaussant's characteristically cynical narrative, "Boule de Suif," apprehends that her acts of charity receive no appreciation. In effect, situational irony is at play in this Maupassant conte as circumstances occur that directly contradict what the protagonist expects as an outcome. There are two instances of this situational irony:

1. Having been praised for her patriotism--"She was warmly congratulated" when she "flew at the throat" of the Prussians who occupied her house in Rouen.  Ironically, however, when she resists the Prussian officer who demands her sexual services, she is hated because she prevents the others from leaving the inn and continuing on their journey.

2. After sharing her food with the hungry and travelers delayed by the snow who have not thought to bring any of their own, Boule de Suif is warmly accepted by them, becoming "a charming companion."  However, after she acquiesces to the Prussian soldier for the sake of the others that they may progress in their journey, she becomes to them a "despised courtesan" whose "skirts [were] infected with some deadly disease.  As the journey progresses and the travelers pull out their food, "no one thought of her as they ate," even the nuns, although Boule de Suif, in the haste and confusion of her leaving has not remembered food.

This situational irony points to the hypocrisy of the nobility, the merchant class, and even those of the religious order--all of society, in other words. 

In addition to this irony, there is the verbal irony of the democrat Cornudet, who repeatedly whistles the national anthem of France, much to the discomfort of the capricious passengers. For, in his disdain of the other travelers, Cornudet criticizes their hypocritical discussions of patriotism as whereas before Boule de Suif sacrifices her pride for her "patriotic duty," the travelers have argued that many a great woman, such as Cleopatra, had saved her country through seduction, but after she selflessly gives herself to the Prussian so they can continue the journey, she is no longer the "charming companion" of the first trip, but instead a pariah,"that creature," as Madame Loiseau alludes to her.