illustrated portrait of French author Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant

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Explain how Abbé Marignan is a dynamic character in "The Moonlight".

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The Abbé was a very strict and rigid man who believed in the system of nature. He did not believe in love, sex or women. He thought love was sinful and wrong, but when he saw his niece with her lover by the river in the moonlight, he felt something he had never experienced before – true love. This caused him to become less hard on people and their sins.

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A dynamic character is one who develops and changes over the course of a narrative, so an easy way to answer this question is to ask simply, “How does the Abbé Marignan change from the beginning to the end of this story?”

Guy de Maupassant is very upfront with his...

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description of the Abbé at the start of “In the Moonlight.”  Marignan is a very erect, God-fearing man.  He has a very rigid view of the world that extends even to God, and he believes that he is and moreovershouldbe privy to the machinations of the Divine.  Life, to him, and the world, have been created and subsequently operate within a system of undeniable logic, a belief illustrated by the line, “Dawns existed to make waking up a pleasure, days to ripen the crops, rain to water them; evening to prepare for slumber, and the night was dark for sleeping.” 

He despises women and the lusty thoughts their presence conjures in the minds of men, and Marignan has a private plan to send his niece to a convent once she is old enough, to spare her from this devilish female fate.  He becomes furious when he learns that she has taken a secret lover, and plans to ambush them at night, at the site of their tryst.  Recall the above quote:  “evening [existed] to prepare for slumber, and the night was dark for sleeping.”  It is safe to assume that the Abbé does not get out at night very often.  And on this occasion his violent plans are swept from his mind, because “he was immediately distracted, moved by the glorious and serene beauty of the pale night.”  Here we see his carefully constructed schema of the rules and boundaries of life begin to fall apart – if dark was for sleeping, why is the nighttime so beautiful?  Why is he so transfixed, so emotionally moved by the splendor of the shimmering darkness?  His convictions are being called into question. 

The Abbé has an almost Panglossian line of reasoning – the seasons are made for growing crops, rather than the growing of crops being adapted to the seasons – and he therefore must ask himself, in reference to the night, “For who was it intended, this sublime spectacle, this flood of poetry poured from the sky over the earth?”  And here his dynamism is even more marked, for he spies his niece and her lover, walking together by the river in the moonlight, in the serenity of the still night, and understands that it was made for them.  And he turns around, having forgotten his desperate goal, to leave them in peace.  So he went from a man who loathed love and all the “sin” it carried in its entourage, to a man who understood the beauty of deep attraction, and who finally understood its place in the world.

So, in short, the Abbe became a more tolerant person; he went from a man who viewed love as the ultimate departure from God to a man who understood that love, as well, was a part of the Divine plan for humanity.  And in doing so he allowed his worldview to be changed and expanded.  He became ever so slightly more flexible in his understanding of the world.

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