illustrated portrait of French author Guy de Maupassant

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What thesis statement can be derived from "A Dead Woman's Secret"?

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One way of looking at this story is to look at it from the perspective of the two children (who, it should be noted, since these answers refer to them as children: the two are actually fully grown adults. One's a nun and the other is a magistrate).

If you look at the narration in "Dead Woman's Secret," the two are described as very rigidly moralistic, but (as an answer before me has written) their morality lacks compassion. Indeed, the magistrate's execution of the law is described within the narration in almost brutal terms, as a kind of weapon to be wielded against the vulnerable. As for the nun, there's an element of misanthropy informing her seclusion.

When reading their reaction to their discovery, it might be worth noting the degree to which the two might not have actually been transformed by that discovery at all. They've always been judgmental, particularly against any perceived moral infringements. The only real change that has taken place is that now the mother herself has been brought under censure.

I'd suggest that what might make for interesting conversation lies in what this stories says about the son and the daughter and about their own moral inflexibility. What does this story imply about the importance of empathy and compassion, as it relates to standards of virtue or behavior? Can we state, from this story at least, that the later is actually hollow if it is not informed by qualities of the former?

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Another theme that can be taken from this story is that "Death reveals all." The mother made a point to never share the story of her secret relationship, yet death presented it for her family to see, and she is no longer able to keep her secret hidden. Hiding it was clearly one of the major focuses of her life, and yet she doesn't seem to have hidden it out of shame, as she kept all of the correspondence regarding it. It seems more likely that she did indeed love the person with whom she had gotten involved, but she also understood the complexity of her situation. Had the secret come out earlier, perhaps her son would have turned his back on her sooner and not been as likely to follow the moral code which she presented in her life.

Even now, though the code has been established, the son is troubled by information that seemingly goes against it, and he rejects his mother. It makes him rethink all of the lessons of the past, which also reveals the theme that "In the eyes of some, one simple act can undo an entire life." Interestingly, the actions of the siblings at the end reveal another theme. The son, a magistrate, is cold and unforgiving, while the daughter, a nun, "remained standing near the bed with a downcast look." This suggests a difference between man's law and God's law, particularly when it comes to forgiveness, which illuminates the theme that "Forgiveness is Divine."

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One way to construct a possible thesis statement on this story would be to focus on what changes the magistrate's demeanor as he keeps watch over his mother's body on the night she dies. He is initially overwhelmed, as is his sister Marguerite, by grief and the realization of "how strongly they had been attached to [their mother], and how desolate they would find themselves now." Once the siblings learn that their mother received numerous letters from an apparent lover, and not their father, the son seems to judge her very harshly, despite knowing how unhappy their father made her. He "drew the curtains around the bed" as if condemning her for her choice. The son, as children so often do, has trouble accepting that his mother was a human being with desires and secrets of her own, and he does not seem to understand that these do not negate or take away from her goodness or all the wonderful things she did and was. The high standards of morality which their mother, apparently, inculcated in her children does not seem to translate into compassion, which is unfortunate. Therefore, you might make a claim regarding the reason for the son's abrupt change toward his mother.

You could also claim that even the most "saint[-like]" people have secrets. The mother seemed to be "a saint" according to the priest and seemed, to her children, like the best kind of upright and moral person. However, we cannot know everything about a person, and it is likely that everyone has skeletons they might wish to hide from the world. Perhaps one day the son will look back on his treatment of his own mother, after her passing, as such a skeleton to be concealed.

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