illustrated portrait of French author Guy de Maupassant

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In "The Umbrella," what kind of woman is Madame Oreille?

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In Guy de Maupassant's "The Umbrella", Madame Oreille is portrayed as a miserly, short-tempered woman who is very careful with her finances despite being well-off. She is described as active, hasty, neat, tidy, and having a short temper. Her obsession with saving money drives most of her actions in the story. However, she is not against spending money that isn't hers, as seen when she insists on the finest silk for the repair of an umbrella covered by insurance.

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"The Umbrella" is a short story written by Guy de Maupassant. It is set in Paris in the 1880s, and it is a subtle and observant comic tale about a woman, Mme. Oreille, and the trials and tribulations she has with an umbrella.

Mme. Oreille is married; her husband is long-suffering, for she is a miser with their finances, and though he works as an upper clerk at the War Office, they are well-off and have plenty of money, for she rarely allows Oreille to spend it. At the start of the story, Mme. Oreille is described as

a little woman of about forty, very active, rather hasty, wrinkled, very neat and tidy, and with a very short temper.

These initial character descriptions account for many of Mme. Oreille's actions and reactions during the story. However, her desire to save money is a driving force in her personality. It pains her to see any money spent—"it was like tearing at her heartstrings when she had to take any of those nice crown-pieces out of her pocket"—and she sleeps poorly when she has to spend any money at all. She is obsessed with money.

The plot turns around a new umbrella that Mme. Oreille—after many arguments and discussions—finally agrees to allow her husband to purchase to take to the office on rainy days. Almost immediately, a series of mysterious accidents befall the umbrella, and it is ruined, its fabric covered with tiny burn holes.

Mme. Oreille chokes with rage when she sees the condition of the umbrella. She shouts at her husband:

Oh! you brute! you brute! You did it on purpose, but I will pay you out for it. You shall not have another.

She is quite short-tempered, suggesting she will take revenge on her husband for ruining the umbrella and stating that a replacement for the one he has ruined is out of the question.

A friend who visits for dinner suggest that they take the umbrella to the Fire Insurance office and see if they can make a claim for the damages.

Mme. Oreille is determined to do this. Yet "she was very timid before people, and grew red at a mere nothing, and was embarrassed when she had to speak to strangers." Despite her timidity (in public, anyway), she girds herself up and heads to the Assurance Company, where she is sent to the claims department.

The claims manager, after hearing her invented tale about an accidental fire that burnt the umbrella, secretly suspects she is lying but eventually is worn down by her insistence that he help her and advises her to go have the umbrella recovered, and they will pay for the bill.

Happy, Mme. Oreille marches off to have the umbrella recovered. The final joke in the tale is that she finds a first class shop and confidently tells them:

I want this umbrella recovered in silk, good silk. Use the very best and strongest you have; I don’t mind what it costs.

So it turns out Mme. Oreille has no problem spending money that is not actually hers. She likes to get her money's worth.

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Madame Oreille is a bit of an old skinflint. She will move heaven and earth to avoid paying for something, even if it's absolutely essential. And an umbrella on a rainy day would certainly fall into that category. Mean-spirited, bad-tempered, and greedy, she's the kind of person who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Furthermore, Mme. Oreille is a shameless freeloader. She won't pay a penny for anything if she can avoid it, but is more than happy for someone else to pick up the tab. That's why, when she goes to the store to get the umbrella repaired, she insists that it should be covered in the finest silk; she won't have to pay for it, the insurance company will.

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In the story, Madame Oreille is a miserly woman. Her chief preoccupation in life is to save money, and she is a tyrant to her husband in this regard. Monsieur Oreille is hardly allowed to have any pocket money at all, and he lives in constant fear of his wife's shrewish temper.

Although Madame Oreille and her husband have no children and can live comfortably, Madame Oreille's fear of future want prevents her from fully enjoying her present circumstances. The author describes Madame Oreille as a "little woman of about forty, very active, rather hasty, wrinkled, very neat and tidy, and with a very short temper."

Madame Oreille's short temper is frequently trained on her husband. When Monsieur Oreille protests that he is tired of using the cheap and flimsy umbrella she bought to replace his old one, Madame Oreille becomes angry. She eventually buys him a new, more expensive one, albeit accompanied by a lecture that it will not be replaced in a hurry if his new one is ruined through carelessness on his part.

As time progresses, Monsieur Oreille's umbrella is soon mysteriously found to be burned in different places. As for his part, Monsieur Oreille cannot explain how the burns occurred. Madame Oreille, furious at her husband, refuses to replace the umbrella. There is a stalemate between the two until a family friend advises Madame Oreille to seek compensation from their fire insurance company.

Madame Oreille is reluctant to do so initially, but she soon relents. In the conversation between Madame Oreille and the insurance men, Madame Oreille is seen to be a calculating opportunist, who will resort to fabrications in order to save herself the expense of replacing a ruined umbrella; she is quite happy for her husband to have a newer, sturdier umbrella if someone else will foot the costs for what she considers a frivolous expense.

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