Mother Sauvage by Guy de Maupassant
In Mother Sauvage by Guy de Maupassant we have the theme of loss, revenge, innocence, hardship and control. Taken from his Selected Short Stories collection the story is narrated using a frame narrative and after reading the story the reader realises that de Maupassant may be exploring the theme of revenge. Mother Sauvage has deliberately killed the four Prussian soldiers in retaliation for her son Victor’s death. Something that Mother Sauvage freely admits to when asked by the Prussian officer as to what happened the soldiers. Mother Sauvage’s honesty may be important as there is a sense that she knows that she has nothing to lose now that Victor has been killed. Victor was all that Mother Sauvage had left after her husband had also been killed. It is as though Mother Sauvage has a wish that she should join Victor (and her husband) and as such willing accepts the consequences of her actions. It might also be possible that de Maupassant is suggesting that in war there are innocent victims. Mother Sauvage being an example. She has done nothing to deserve the loss of Victor and may be one of many mothers who lost their sons in what some critics might suggest is the futility of war.
Serval’s reaction to Mother Sauvage is also interesting as despite the passing of time he still blames her for the fact that his own home was burnt down in retaliation for what Mother Sauvage had done. Which may leave some readers to suggest that like Mother Sauvage Serval was also an innocent victim of the war. In fact the whole of Virelogne had been taken over by Prussian soldiers with the expectation that those in Virelogne house and feed the soldiers even though the Prussians were the enemy. It is also interesting that the narrator considers Virelogne to be a happy place. A place that he loves yet for others it is a place in whereby hostilities took place. This may be important as de Maupassant may be suggesting that what occurred in Virelogne during the Franco-Prussian war has not been forgotten by those who live there. Though the war is long over the pain of the war lingers for many. Serval being an example. Which may be the point that de Maupassant is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that though a war may be short lived people’s lives are transformed and changed forever.
For those who witnessed the war. Their memories do not fade. They lived through the hardship and the occupation of a foreign army. Any control that people had over their lives disappeared. Something that is noticeable by the fact that those in Virelogne had to house and feed the Prussians. While their sons and husbands where fighting against the Prussians. The fact that Mother Sauvage also has the four slips of paper is interesting. Firstly they act as foreshadowing as to what will happen the four Prussian soldiers and secondly the slips of paper show that Mother Sauvage has feelings or understands that the four soldier’s families need to be notified. So that they may have the opportunity to grieve the loss of their loved ones. If Mother Sauvage was an uncaring woman she would not have asked the soldiers to write their name and address on the slips of paper. Rather she would have just set the cottage on fire without concern for the soldiers loved ones. If anything Mother Sauvage knows how important it is for a family to know as to whether or not there loved ones have died.
The end of the story is also interesting as it is clear to the reader just how different the narrator’s opinion on Mother Sauvage is compared to that of Serval. By picking up the blackened stone the narrator is in many ways remembering Mother Sauvage (and the four soldiers). While Serval on the other hand does not need to be reminded of what Mother Sauvage has done. Her actions remain fresh in his mind. If anything there are two different emotions being displayed by the narrator and Serval. The narrator has empathy for Mother Sauvage and the four soldiers while Serval remains bitter because of Mother Sauvage’s actions. It might also be important to remember that there would be others too in Virelogne who have not forgotten Mother Sauvage. They too like Serval may have had property destroyed. In reality de Maupassant is giving the reader an insight into the opinions and feelings of two different people. The narrator’s and Serval’s. Either of which would be considered valid or justified. Just as both sides in the Franco-Prussian war would have felt justified for the actions they took. However it might be important to remember that on both sides of the war there were innocent victims. Mother Sauvage would not have been alone.