Summary

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The action plot of the story is quite simple. An explorer, Marcel Pretre, while on an excursion into equatorial Africa, comes across a tribe of extraordinarily small pygmies living in the forest. These pygmies tell him of an even smaller race of pygmies living deeper within the jungle. He travels even deeper into the heart of the luxuriant tropical forest and there discovers the smallest race of pygmies in the world. Among these minute creatures, he discovers “the smallest of the smallest pygmies in the world,” a tiny woman no more than forty-five centimeters (twenty-six and one-half inches) tall. She is mature; indeed, she is conspicuously pregnant, and she is quite black. She does not attempt to speak, and the reader learns that the tribe, the Likoualas, has only a very limited language and that its members communicate primarily by gestures.

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The explorer is awed by this unique creature, considering her the rarest and most extraordinary creature on the earth because of her diminutive size. He takes photographs of her, prepares a description, and sends the photograph and article on to a newspaper, which publishes the life-size photograph, together with the article, in its Sunday supplement.

As readers of the Sunday newspaper see the photograph, they react in different ways, and these reactions and the comments they make are explored in the story as the next part of the narrative. The scene then shifts back to the jungle, where the explorer and the tiny woman are regarding each other while he continues to gather data about her. He has named her Little Flower, and he gazes at her in wonder. Little Flower, herself, is feeling warm, safe, and happy, and within her arises spontaneously a feeling of love for the explorer. However, the author notes that she loves Marcel Pretre in the same appreciative, admiring manner that she loves his ring and his boots.

Little Flower smiles at Marcel, and he responds by returning her smile. However, he is not sure at all what she is smiling about or what response he is indicating with his own smile. Marcel’s awareness of Little Flower’s emotion, and some perception of his own feeling, increases. He becomes embarrassed by these feelings, and to reestablish his self-control he returns to taking notes very intently. This moment of awareness and self-discovery that Little Flower, the uncivilized, natural creature, has forced on him reveals his own inner depths and so frightens him that he rejects the revelation and returns to the mechanical routine of gathering data and taking notes about her. He rejects the emotions that Little Flower reveals and his own emotions as well, because he is unable to handle and respond to the spontaneous and unabashed natural emotions that his mannerly existence suppresses.

As a final note, rather like the “moral” at the end of a fable by Aesop, the scene shifts again to the metropolis, where an old woman reading about the tiny woman in the Sunday supplement responds with platitudes, commenting that “it just goes to show,” meaning that unlikely things are indeed possible. “God,” she adds, “knows what He’s about.”

Summary

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“The Smallest Woman in the World,” a story in the Family Ties collection, has a combination of realistic and surrealistic elements that is frequently called Magical Realism. Marcel Pretre, a French explorer, finds a tiny pregnant woman in the Congo. She is one of the remaining members of a race that has been almost completely destroyed by predators. There is a tension between the finder and his...

(The entire section contains 911 words.)

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