Two Little Soldiers by Guy de Maupassant

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A first-time reader of this story, or of many other Guy de Maupassant stories, may be surprised by the ending because it is difficult to imagine such catastrophic consequences in the lives of characters as simple as these soldiers. For precisely this reason, though, Maupassant is able to have significant impact on readers: The universal aspects of the tale stand out sharply beneath the surface simplicity. In “Two Little Soldiers,” the tragedy of the traditional “love triangle” is brought into sharp focus, and the readers’ sympathies are immediately and directly engaged by these young men whose lives are forever altered by the arrival of a woman whom they both admire.

The central issue that Maupassant treats is the conflict between friendship and love. In its simplest terms, the “moral” of this story is that a person and his best friend cannot love the same person. That notion, however, takes on poignant overtones in Maupassant’s skillful handling of the story of these two soldiers.

It is clear from the outset that the two recruits share a special relationship. Thrown together in a system that traditionally offers little freedom and little dignity for individuals, the soldiers have found in each other a much-needed comrade whose shared interests and similar background make military life bearable. The opening scenes show the genuine bond that exists between them: They survive the week in order to spend their Sundays together. What these men share is a kind of male bonding that often occurs in soldiers, a special friendship that the military hierarchy relies on to ensure that men will fight bravely to save their comrades in war.

Suddenly, another emotion enters the lives of both recruits, one that challenges the strength of that bonding. Both are smitten by the young girl who befriends them. In their quiet way, they vie for her attention, although neither seems aware that the other is in love. To win the girl, however, one of them must “betray” the bond of friendship; it is impossible that one should become the girl’s lover and still maintain the...

(The entire section is 539 words.)