"Two Friends" Themes

The main themes in “Two Friends” are the horror of war, loyalty and courage, and friendship.

  • The horror of war: In attempting to escape besieged Paris for a few hours, Morissot and Sauvage instead find themselves directly confronted by war’s horrors when they are captured by the Prussians.
  • Loyalty and courage: Morissot and Sauvage bravely remain loyal to each other and to France, refusing to give the Prussian officer the Parisian password.
  • Friendship: While the friendship between Morissot and Sauvage may at first appear casual, it ultimately proves strong enough to survive even the threat of certain death.


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The Horror of War

War rages all around Messieurs Morissot and Sauvage, and by the end of the story, they feel the full force of its horror. Paris is a city under siege by the Prussian army, and food is limited at best. People eat what they can, and the narrator implies that this extends to sparrows and rats, which are “growing scarce” throughout the city.

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Morissot is certainly feeling the effects of war in his own life as he walks down the boulevard on a January morning with an empty stomach. He is out of work, for no one needs a new watch in the midst of a famine. Sauvage, too, is walking about the city during the day, suggesting that his business as a draper (a cloth merchant) is not thriving, either; otherwise he would be in his shop. Now, however, he has time to have two glasses of absinthe with his old friend.

As the two friends leave the city and head toward their favorite fishing spot, they are well aware of the devastation war has brought to the countryside, which is deserted and silent. The plain, apparently once fruitful, is now “quite empty—a waste of dun-colored soil and bare cherry trees.” The Prussians have been pillaging the land for months, depriving Paris of its food sources.

Creeping cautiously along, Morissot and Sauvage worry about meeting their enemy face-to-face. They try to joke about what they would do, but their fear remains, and they hurry on, “with eye and ear alert,” until they can hide themselves in the reeds near the river. War has made these men fearful, and the narrator mentions that they are plagued with “a kind of superstitious terror mingled with the hatred” they feel for the Prussians. War devastates more than the land and the body; it also ravages the mind.

Cannon fire resumes in the midst of the fishing trip, and the two friends discuss the foolishness of war, its inhumanity, and its seeming inevitability. They lament that they will never be free. The narrator uses that moment to insert his own reflection on the horror of war, observing that the cannon balls not only demolish houses and reduce the “lives of men to powder” but also steal dreams, hopes, and happiness, “causing endless woe and suffering” to soldiers and their loved ones.

Before long, the full force of the horror of war falls directly upon Morissot and Sauvage, for they are captured by the Prussians and executed as spies. Their fishing trip, which was meant to provide a brief escape from the war and a few hours of joy, has actually placed them directly in war's dangerous path. The Prussian officer calmly declares, “You have fallen into my hands, and must take the consequences. Such is war.” Indeed, the two men are willing to accept the consequences, even their own deaths, for they refuse to provide the French password that would allow the Prussians entry into Paris. The war has called them into direct service to their country. They are not soldiers, but they are not traitors or cowards, either, so they willingly, bravely become casualties of war.

Loyalty and Courage

At the end of “Two Friends,” Morissot and Sauvage are faced with a dilemma. They have been captured by the Prussians, and the Prussian officer offers them a deal. He must assume they are spies, but if they tell him the password to...

(The entire section contains 1277 words.)

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