Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Maupassant, following in the steps of Gustave Flaubert, is the master of precise detail; he frequently captures with exactitude the minutiae of urban life. In the oppressive July heat, Maupassant observes the city’s “white, chalky, opaque, suffocating, and warm dust” in the air, which damply adheres to everything, and he is sensitive to city tenements clustered with small noisome flies. He swiftly caricatures Caravan’s restless wife, who compulsively rubs mahogany chairs with a piece of flannel; he sketches dainty family members at table overeating with “a sort of studied inattention”; and he surveys the curious from all over town who file in, “stealthy as an army of mice,” to observe the corpse.

Maupassant is similarly the master of exaggeration; his deft overemphasis repeatedly transforms normal actions into melodrama. Thus, Caravan in mourning is portrayed as flinging himself on the body of his supposedly deceased mother and as incessantly moaning and weeping. Caravan’s inebriated vision of Mama in the past is overpainted—old memories are laid on, as it were, with a trowel; for now, with his loss, he vows that his life has been sliced in half, that this separation will be eternal, that he will lose all recollections of his past. This hyperbolic emphasis discolors the scene, rendering the reader suspicious and amused. Hence, it is no surprise that Caravan feels sated, relieved, and comfortable shortly afterward, so that he can turn...

(The entire section is 418 words.)