A Coward by Guy de Maupassant
In A Coward by Guy de Maupassant we have the theme of honour, fear, doubt, appearance, pride, conflict and insecurity. Taken from his The Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maupassant may be exploring the theme of honour. Signoles takes offence with Lamil over Lamil’s continued gazing at one of his female friends. Though minor the fact that Lamil will not cease his activities offends Signoles. It is as though his honour is at stake and as such Signoles challenges Lamil to a duel. Though some critics might consider that the responsibility to tackle Lamil was that of the ladies husband. The fact is that Signoles considers himself to be a man of importance with an appearance to maintain. Any slight against a friend of Signoles is considered by Signoles to be a slight against himself. If anything Signoles in believing that his honour has been called into question has seriously put his life at risk. Though Signoles is considered to be a good shot. The fact that Lamil accepts pistols as the weapon of choice for the duel makes Signoles doubt his own abilities.
How concerned Signoles is about what may happen is noticeable by the fact that he ends up pacing up and down his bedroom. The reader fully aware that Signoles is not only beginning to have doubts about his actions and a call for a duel but he is also beginning to become afraid. He knows absolutely nothing about Lamil so he cannot formulate an opinion about him. It is also interesting that after drinking a decanter of rum Signoles begins to believe that he can go ahead with the duel. This may be important as Maupassant may be highlighting how alcohol can cause an individual to misjudge a situation and increase a person’s confidence when the reality is the opposite. After the effects of alcohol lessen Signoles’ fear returns. If anything Signoles is conflicted. He feels as though he has an image or appearance to maintain for the benefit of others but he has also never come across an individual like Lamil. Who is not afraid and who is not backing down. It is also interesting that Signoles does not wish for his seconds to see him afraid as this would further play on the theme of appearance.
It might also be significant that Signoles seconds have great confidence in his abilities. Something which Signoles himself lacks. Though he is a good shot with a pistol he is overpowered by doubt and fear. With the reality being that Signoles is comparing himself to the unknown Lamil. Unfortunately for Signoles he is entering the unknown and he is unprepared. Also by challenging Lamil to the duel. Signoles is stating that he is a man of good character and reputation. It is as though this is the driving factor for Signoles. Again he has an image or appearance to maintain. One that has never been put to question before by anybody. Signoles seems to have had the upper hand for most of his life. With others being jealous of him because of his abilities with women and his good looks. Lamil is the first real challenge that Signoles faces in life and he can either make or break Signoles. Something that Signoles himself is aware of. If anything Signoles’ pride has been wounded and as a result he has got himself into an uncertain situation. One of which he has very little or no control over.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense of irony in the fact that Signoles is prepared to take his own life rather than let Lamil kill him. So driven by fear is Signoles that he considers suicide to be his only option. Though some critics might suggest that Signoles is a coward because he wouldn’t face Lamil. Signoles might believe that his death will be considered honourable or perhaps an accident. His memory will not be tarnished by his inability to face Lamil. However one thing is clear and that is that throughout the story Signoles has tried to portray himself as something he is not. As to why he might do so is difficult to say. Though it is possible that Signoles for one reason or another was insecure. He needed the approval of others. Possibly because he never had the approval of his parents when he was growing up. Signoles after all was an orphan. He may have felt the need to impress others and make other men jealous in order to boost his own self-esteem. Whatever the case may be Signoles has paid the ultimate price for his vanity. He has taken his own life rather than facing Lamil.