Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of A. E. Coppard’s story, “Arabesque—The Mouse,” is a cue to both its meaning and its style. An arabesque is an ornamental object, such as a rug or mosaic, in which flowers, fruits, animals, and other figures are represented in fancifully combined patterns. Coppard’s story is just such an arabesque. Filip’s present encounter with the mouse is arranged by his imagination and memory into a pattern of warmth, violence, and loss—which explain his misanthropic personality and constricted life.

The line, “Mean—so mean, to appeal to the hunger of any living thing just in order to destroy it,” explains the pattern, or arabesque, his life has formed. Filip was evidently a sensitive, needy child who drew warmth and solace from his mother as a nursing mother. Her warm breast and heart were especially reassuring to a fearful child. This reassurance was snatched from Filip by the unspeakable violence and poignance of his mother’s maiming and death.

Filip’s brief encounter with Cassia is similarly affirming to him. At that moment he is strong, virile, and seems assured. When Cassia remarks on his heartbeat, however, he is cued to the memory of his mother’s discussion of his heartbeat the day before her death. He even repeats the phrase, “Little mother, little mother!” The reader does not learn what broke off his relationship with Cassia but does learn that they only met one time. Filip’s psyche seems to have been...

(The entire section is 476 words.)