Maupassant closed his short story with Boule de Suif crying. How does his story account for this scene and our reaction to it? The language in “La Boule de Suif” is chosen purposefully. Maupassant uses details, images and words in order to create a particular effect on the reader. His writing is implicit throughout the story and shows the real face of a group of French people. The group is detained by a Prussian officer who forbids them to continue on their journey unless La Boule de Suif, a prostitute, sleeps with him. She considers this action to be a betrayal of France but after being pressured by her companions, she accedes to the demand.
Nonetheless, La Boule’s sacrifice is not what affects the reader the most; it is her tears at the end that makes the reader most strongly sympathize with her. One reason why we feel sorry for Boule de Suif is the unfair and hypocritical behaviour in which she is treated by her companions. They intentionally make her feel excluded, humiliated and ashamed. Not only do they ignore her, they act as if she was “infectious”. She didn’t expect this because they were the ones who criticized her for being selfish when she refused to sleep with the Prussian officer. Instead of attacking the enemy, they “launched attacks” against La Boule.
They forced her to do it by making arguments to persuade her. The Comtesse assured her that the Church would forgive her if she sacrifices herself for “the greater glory of God or for the good of one’s neighbour” and the nuns even called her action a “virtue”. However, after having sex with the Prussian officer, they all rejected her. This shows their hypocrisy and ingratitude. The theme of food and greed is present throughout the story. La Boule is often illustrated by images of food; she is “fat as a pig”, her fingers resemble to “miniature sausages” and her face is like “a red apple”. Even her name “Boule de Suif” means “Dumpling”.
In the coach, the French eat their greasy food with the exception of Boule de Suif as nobody is willing to share the meal with her. This contrasts with the beginning of the story where she shared her food with everybody even though the women called her “public scandal” when she entered the coach. Furthermore, at the beginning of the story, Loiseau jokes about “eating the fattest of the passengers” which is an allusion to La Boule. In fact, they did “eat her” in the end. They consumed her like a piece of food and then threw her because they didn’t need her anymore. This makes us empathize with her and feel disgust towards the French.
We feel even more compassion and pity for her when she is not able to say a word, “choked with the violence of her feelings” and starts to cry. Maupassant makes the scene very emotional by making Boule de Suif look like a small fragile child who tries really hard to stop the tears from coming but it can’t because it is too powerless. When Mme. Loiseau notices her crying, she “smiles triumphantly” and says that La Boule is “weeping for her shame” which is in reality their shame. Mme Loiseau’s smile proves her cruelty, coldness and inhumanity and contrasts with La Boule’s tears of generosity, warmth and heroism.
Moreover, the story ends with the singing of the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. This returns to the theme of patriotism which has been discussed at the beginning. The only true patriot in the story is Boule de Suif; she’s the only one who has attacked a Prussian. The other characters in the story pretend to be patriots fighting for France, but in reality they are cowardly running away to save themselves and their money. When Cornudet sings the national anthem, it makes them look like “dogs about to howl at the sound of a barrel-organ”.
They all face the betrayal of France and the anthem reminds them of their treachery. Cornudet is not a patriot either, he was against La Boule sleeping with the Prussian officer only because he wanted her for himself, but she refused him. He keeps on repeating and accentuating the rhythm of the anthem to humiliate her in revenge. However, La Boule represents the emblem of the country here while the others are traitors of France. Her tears are the tears of France. It is the greed and selfishness of the ruling classes which caused the loss of the war.
Maupassant makes the ending of the story genuinely strong and meaningful. It is impossible to not feel sorry for La Boule; it’s revolting that she saved her companions and instead of their gratitude and respect, she obtained hateful looks and humiliation. Maupassant shows the hypocrisy, greed and cowardice of the rich classes who are supposed to help their country in hard times, but who, on contrary, lead to its loss. Despite the fact that she is crying, Boule de Suif is the only character who deserves our admiration; she’s the only who shows her real face and who is truly devoted to France.