What is the irony of "The Piece of String" by Guy de Maupassant?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As was mentioned in the previous post, the irony throughout the short story "The Piece of String" concerns the innocence of Maitre Hauchecorne and significance of such an insignificant object. Maitre Hauchecorne, a thrifty Norman peasant, is accused of picking up M. Houlbreque's pocketbook when he actually picked up a tiny piece of string. Hauchecorne's enemy, M. Malandain, saw him suspiciously pick up something and quickly accuses him of possessing the pocketbook. Hauchecorne spends the rest of the story trying to defend his innocence. Even after the pocketbook is returned, the villagers refuse to believe that M. Hauchecorne is innocent. It is ironic that an innocent man is considered guilty in the eyes of the villagers. It is also ironic that something as small and insignificant as a tiny piece of string made an incredible impact on the life of a man. In an attempt to defend his reputation, Maitre Hauchecorne continues to lengthen his story and swear oaths that he was innocent, yet people refuse to believe him. It is also ironic that the more he tries to defend his innocence, the more people believe that he is guilty. 

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The supreme irony of Guy de Maupassan'ts short story, "The Piece of String," is that the protagonist, Maitre Hauchecorne, though innocent of the crime of which he is accused, is believed by all to be guilty. Due to his "crafty" nature, he has always been regarded as suspicious to the townspeople--a man not to be wholly trusted. By persistently declaring his innocence, he merely fuels speculation of his guilt. It is also ironic that such a simple act--the retrieval of a discarded piece of string--could result in such tragic circumstances. In the end, Hauchecorne realizes another irony of his situation:

Ironically, when Hauchecorne goes home after being mocked out of town, he arrives at the same conclusion that Maupassant had held for years. That is, Hauchecorne's Norman simplicity readily understands that there is considerable justice in the peasants’ disbelief of his story. The peasants’ ingrained suspiciousness has singled out this old man as a thief, even disregarding the fact that the pocketbook had been recovered a day later; this, too, is how Maupassant treats his peasant: as a man not to be trusted.