The very title ‘‘Two Friends’’ suggests friendship as an important theme in de Maupassant’s story, and indeed the story revolves around the friendship of Morissot and Sauvage. The action of the story begins when the two meet, and, made idle by the war, have nothing better to do than reminisce about their friendship in the days of peace. Their friendship was perhaps somewhat curious, but satisfying to them nonetheless. They would meet on Sundays and go to their favorite fishing spot on the Seine in the Paris suburbs and fish. During these times they were at once apart yet together, not talking but experiencing: ‘‘Morissot would say: ‘It’s grand here, isn’t it?’ and Monsieur Sauvage would answer: ‘No place like it.’ It was all they needed to say to understand and respect each other.’’ Driven by the desire to recapture those idyllic days of their friendship, the two set off for their old fishing spot, despite the fact that it is in the no-man’s-land between the French and Prussian lines on the siege works surrounding the city. When they are inevitably captured, the Prussian officer recognizes that they are friends and, when interrogating them about the password needed to re-cross the French lines, he attempts to alleviate the pressure on them by taking each one aside and telling him, ‘‘Quick, the password. Your comrade will never know. I’ll make it look as if I felt sorry for you.’’ But it is precisely because of their comradeship, a more developed form of friendship, that neither would think of committing treason by aiding the enemy in front of the other. At the same time, though, their comradeship preserves their essential character as Frenchmen, which Maupassant seems to consider should be preserved even at the cost of death.
The main action of ‘‘Two Friends’’ consists of the friends Morissot and Sauvage going on a fishing expedition as they did in the days of peace before the war and the siege of Paris. Since their old fishing spot is between the French and Prussian siege lines, they are quite literally risking their lives to go there, so their journey is no simple pleasure trip. What the two friends are after is not merely the sport of fishing, nor even the fish themselves as food (though under the conditions of privation that obtained during the siege that would no doubt have been most welcome for the friends and their families), nor even simple nostalgia. The friends attempt by their foolhardy act to negate the whole disaster of the war that is destroying the France they knew in peacetime. Though they certainly realize that there will be no fairy-tale ending with the Prussians vanishing like smoke in the wind, Morissot and Sauvage are risking their lives to make a statement against the war that is destroying the France they knew, and for the old France of peacetime. The quest to find this impossible place that no longer exists is itself a protest against the present more potent than words.
Although it is easy to read ‘‘Two Friends’’ as an antiwar story, the context of Maupassant’s whole body of work does not support so simple an assumption. Maupassant did not reject war out of pacifist convictions. Rather, he objected to particular instances of war. Worst of all was the Franco-Prussian War, which Emperor Napoleon III had needlessly provoked and which led to disaster for France. He objected to the French wars of colonial expansion in North Africa and Indochina because he viewed the colonial effort they supported as diluting France, as degrading French culture in the service of capitalism and industrialism. He would have been happy to embrace a war that supported and strengthened French culture. Paul Ignotus in The Paradox of Maupassant says of Maupassant’s attitude to war in his Franco-Prussian War stories: ‘‘War, as Maupassant saw it at that time, was not so much cruel as dull as hypocritical.’’ Increasingly, however, Maupassant wished to cast the Prussians as the symbol of France’s distress. In his last, never completed novel, Ange´, Maupassant revisited the Franco-Prussian War and extended his image of the Prussian officer corps into a stereotype: repellent and brutal, constantly clicking their jackboots.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Guy de Maupassant – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.