Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
During the months after the Prussian defeat of the French in 1871, Prussian troops occupy many areas of France. Five bored Prussian officers are among the leaders of the force occupying the small Normandy town of Urville, where they live in a castle. Major von Farlsberg is an older bearded officer; Captain von Kelweingstein is an obese man who lost two teeth on his wedding night, although he could not remember how this accident had happened. The major and captain are both married, but both complain that they have not had sex for several months and do not want this situation to continue. The three lower-ranking officers are also bored. Second Lieutenant Wilhelm von Eyrick has shown himself to be brutal and especially harsh toward French people. His fellow soldiers call him “Mademoiselle Fifi” because of his dandified appearance and the fact that he often adds the French words “fi, fi donc” to his German sentences.
After the major again complains about their tedious life in Urville, the captain proposes to organize a feast and orders a corporal to go to nearby Rouen to collect five prostitutes. As the officers await the women’s arrival, they pass their time by blowing up pieces of china and complaining about Father Chantavoine, a local Catholic priest who has refused to ring his church’s bells since the Prussians occupied his town. Mademoiselle Fifi wants to punish the priest, but his superiors argue that it would not look good for the Prussians to kill a priest.
After the prostitutes arrive at the castle of Urville, the major distributes them among the officers. He chooses Pamela for himself and assigns Blondine to the captain, Amanda to Lieutenant von Grossling, Eva “the Tomato” to Lieutenant Fritz Scheunaubourg, and Rachel “the Jewess” to Mademoiselle Fifi. The officers decide to dine with the prostitutes before making love. As they begin drinking, they deride French soldiers for their alleged lack of heroism and toast Prussia’s victory over France.
When Mademoiselle Fifi kisses Rachel so hard that he bites her lip, she warns him that he must pay for this act of violence. Fifi does not realize that she is not referring merely to his paying her extra money. As everyone grows drunk, the Prussians declare that all of France and all Frenchwomen belong to them. No longer able to restrain herself, Rachel says that the Prussians invaded France only in order to gain easy access to prostitutes. When Mademoiselle Fifi slaps her face, she reacts by cutting his throat with a knife and then jumps out of a window. The Prussian soldiers cannot discover Rachel’s hiding place and they accidentally kill two of their own soldiers as they search for her.
Looking for an excuse to punish the villagers, the major orders Father Chantavoine to ring the church bells during Mademoiselle Fifi’s funeral. The villagers are amazed to see his order obeyed. The bells continue to ring intermittently until the end of the Prussian occupation. Father Chantavoine has hidden Rachel in the church tower, where he takes food to her. After the Prussians leave Urville, the priest takes her back to Rouen, where she gives up prostitution and eventually marries an unprejudiced French patriot and becomes a lady who is worth more than many others.
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