What is the theme of the story.  Use four specific details from the work that support the theme."The Piece of String" by Guy de Maupassant

Expert Answers

Want to remove ads?

Get ad-free questions with an eNotes 48-hour free trial.

Try It Free No Thanks
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of Guy de Maupassant's "A Piece of String" is a prevalent one of his:

Life...is composed of the most dissimilar things, the most unforeseen, the most...incongruous; it is merciless,...full of inexplicable, illogical and contradictory catastrophes....

In his writing of the petty bourgeoisie, Guy de Maupassant portrays these inexplicable and merciless themes.  His story about Maitre Hauchecorne of Breaute does just this.  As a "true Norman" Hauchecorne would be looked upon askance by others in the first place.  So, Maitre Hauchecorne frugally stoops and picks up a piece of string, but is embarrassed when the harness maker, Maitre Malandain sees him, especially since Malandain and he have had a dispute over the price of a harness.  Hauchecorne tries to dissemble by searching the ground afterwards as though he has lost something.

This attempt at deception, however, is his undoing.  For, when a wallet is reported stolen, Malandain in his grudge against Hauchecorne tells the authorities that he saw Maitre Hauchecorne stoop and pick up the wallet.  When the mayor questions him, Malandain denies having stolen the wallet, and produces the piece of string.

But the mayor, incredulous, shook his head:  "You would have me to believe, Maitre Hauchecorne, that Monsieur Manlandain, who is a trustworthy man, mistook that piece of yarn for a pocketbook?" 

And, no matter how much he protests, no one believes him.  The villagers are quick to believe in his guilt, calling him a "sly rascal."  Later when the pocketbook is returned, Hauchecorne, in his pride, "telling his story all over again, including the ending," but people seem amused.  He learns that they believe that he paid an accomplice to return the pocketbook.

He set about telling his experience all over again, each day embroidering his recital, with each retelling, adding new resons, more vigorous protestations, more solemn vows that he dreamed up and repeated during his hours alone, his whole mind occupied with the yarn.  He was believed less and less as his defense became more and more intricate and his explanations more and more involved.

Maupassant's theme of the workings of inexplicable and contradictory catastrophes is certainly present in "The Piece of String."  But, also, there is the lesson in Hamlet in which one character is obviously guilty because, as Gertrude remarks, "The lady doth protest too much."  Hauchecorne protests so much, even embellishing his statement that the villagers assume he is guilty. 

Deception is always a mistake, especially when ones enemies are watching and pettiness can conclude.