illustrated portrait of French author Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant

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What is the irony in Guy de Maupassant's "A Piece of String"?

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The supreme irony of Guy de Maupassant's short story, "The Piece of String," is how, by a single, innocent act, a person's life and reputation can be forever altered. When the thrifty Hauchecorne bends over to pick up a piece of string from the street, it seems like such a simple reaction to a discarded item for which he may one day have a use. But when he notices an "enemy," Malandain, observing him, he is ashamed that he has been caught retrieving such a worthless item, and he exaggerates his actions. When another man's "pocketbook" is reported lost, Malandain remembers Hauchecorne's suspicious movements in the street. Rumors fly and soon everyone in the town believes that Hauchecorne has "found" the wallet. Even after the pocketbook is later found--with money intact--Hauchecorne's guilt is presumed. Hauchecorne continues to protest his innocence, but by this time, it is no use: The town has decided that it was he who had found the wallet and later returned it for worry of prosecution. This simple act haunts Hauchecorne to his grave, and on his deathbed, now a broken man, he exhorts how his life has changed from just "... A little bit of string--a little bit of string."

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