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

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is the story of a man named Hauchecorne, who stoops over one day to pick up a piece of string from the street. When he sees he is being observed by his enemy M. Malandain, he is embarrassed to be caught taking something so insignificant as a bit of string, so he pretends he is looking for something else. From the start, therefore, Hauchecorne is characterized as crafty and deceitful, misleading others about his intentions.

Later, when a purse containing 500 francs goes missing, Malandain accuses Hauchecorne of stealing it. Hauchercorne vehemently protests his innocence, insisting he was only picking up a piece of string. 

Even after the purse is found with the 500 francs still in it, the peasants in the town believe Hauchecorne stole it. They believe an accomplice dropped the purse to clear Hauchercorne of the crime. The peasants think that "he was, perhaps, capable of having done what they accused him of and even of boasting of it as a good trick.”

The more people accuse him, the more Hauchercorne insists he is innocent, becoming more and more elaborate and obsessed with his defense, which, ironically, leads him to be more and more disbelieved. He, like Shakespeare says, "doth protest too much." And like the boy who cried wolf, he has such a history of craftiness and deceit that even when he is innocent, people believe he is guilty. His past comes back to haunt him, he becomes more and more the butt of peasant ridicule, and eventually some months later sickens and dies.

 

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A man's reputation is ruined, and all because he bends down to pick up "The Piece of String," yet another memorable tale by French short story master Guy de Maupassant.

One day, Maitre Hauchecorne spies a piece of string in the street and, being a poor man, bends to pick it up. He notices that a personal enemy, M. Malandain, has watched him and, being embarrassed over worthlessness of the string, pretends that he is looking for something else. Later, it is revealed that a purse with a large amount of money has been lost. Hauchecorne is soon called to the police for questioning about the missing purse. His enemy, Malandain, has accused him, and Hauchecorne protests his innocence. He is eventually released, but he tells one and all about his innocence. The purse is later found, and he again tells everyone who will listen that his innocence is now proven. However, the villagers believe to a man that Hauchecorne has an accomplice who placed the purse so that it would be found, and everyone is convinced of his guilt. 

More alone than ever, Hauchecorne becomes an outcast and the butt of jokes throughout the town. He eventually falls ill and dies; his last words, still haunting him upon his deathbed, are "A little bit of string--a little bit of string."