The Umbrella by Guy de Maupassant
In The Umbrella by Guy de Maupassant we have the theme of fear, loss, independence, control, appearance and satisfaction. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that de Maupassant may be exploring the theme of fear. Mme Oreille is afraid to go to the Insurance Office. She fears what may happen and it is as though her mind begins to race as she paces up and down outside the office. This may be significant as de Maupassant may be suggesting that Oreille is in charge when it comes to matters outside the family home. It is left to men to challenge others and pursue a grievance. If this is the case then de Maupassant is highlighting the role of the female in society and how they may be confined to the family home. Mme Oreille does after all spend the majority of the story confined to the home which in many ways suggests a gender paralysis. Mme Oreille may be in control of Oreille when he is at home but once he is outside the confines of the family home he is the master of his own destiny. Unlike Mme Oreille who is reliant on money from her husband’s job to provide her with the little bit of independence she has.
The theme of loss is also self-evident in the story. Mme Oreille has suffered the loss of twenty six francs for the two umbrellas and the reader is only too well aware of how important money is to Mme Oreille. There is nothing more important to her than money. She has no children to place a focus on nor does she necessarily have a good marriage she can rely on. She finds it difficult to control Oreille who refuses to go to the Insurance office. In many ways Mme Oreille is alone and lacks the support of those around her. Though some critics might suggest that Mme Oreille places too much of a focus on money. It might be important to remember that this is all she has. At no stage in the story is there any sense of calmness in the Oreille’s relationship. They argue over the umbrellas throughout the entirety of the story. If anything there is a sense that something is missing in the Oreille marriage. There is no sense of closeness between either character.
There is also some symbolism in the story which might be important. The umbrellas could be seen to be an instrument of control. Oreille has complete control over his wife. So much so that he is able to get two umbrellas. Though it may not seem like Oreille is in control, he is. Something that is clearer by his walking to work with a stick instead of going to the Insurance office. The stick too may be significant as de Maupassant may be using phallic symbolism to show how much Oreille is in control. The first umbrella was also seen to be improper by Oreille. He did not like his co-workers making jokes about it or him. If anything Oreille is more concerned about the appearance of the umbrella than he is of the practicality of it. Hence him looking for a more expensive and pleasing umbrella. The Insurance office man who Mme Oreille is afraid of may also symbolise male dominance at the time the story was written. Like Oreille he controls Mme Oreille. She is afraid of him though does astutely get what she wants from him.
The end of the story is also interesting as Mme Oreille appears to be satisfied with the outcome of the meeting with the insurance man. It is as though she has freed herself from male control albeit by lying. Which may not be important as Mme Oreille must use any device she has at her disposal in order to reach her goal. She may not have gotten her eighteen francs back but she will have the umbrella repaired. She has wrestled control of the umbrella from Oreille and he is unaware of this. As to what the future may hold for Mme Oreille is difficult to say as she may end up simply returning to her home and being submissive to Oreille when it comes to matters outside the family home. On the other hand she could also have found great strength in her actions and it could be Oreille who finds himself under control not only in the family home but outside too. De Maupassant has given the reader an insight into the life of a woman who may or may not have broken the glass ceiling that exists between males and females.