The generation of French authors before Maupassant, including such figures as Honore´ de Balzac and Maupassant’s mentor Gustave Flaubert, aimed at realism: the depiction of everyday life in realistic terms. This was opposed to the earlier Romantic movement, which emphasized the fantastic and the exotic, in language as well as in subject matter. E´mile Zola developed this tendency further into naturalism, which was generally embraced by Maupassant. Zola, imitating scientific materialism, believed that actions in real life were caused by the intersection of character, as shaped by heredity and earlier experience, with random events. Accordingly, he held that the plots of literary works must be determined by the same forces. Maupassant faithfully follows this dictum in ‘‘Two Friends.’’ Following some months of separation as a result of the siege, the two friends, Morissot and Sauvage, meet each other by chance. Their characters dispose them to follow a chain of actions that seems perfectly natural: they meet, they reminiscence about their happy days of fishing, and, somewhat intoxicated, they set off to recapture that happiness. The intersection of this natural course of action with unpredictable random events results in their deaths when they meet a detachment of Prussian soldiers. Maupassant also follows Zola’s naturalism in regard to his narrative style. The narrative voice of ‘‘Two Friends’’ rarely tells what any character is thinking, nor what he intends to do; nor does it dwell on any other motivation or event that would not have been observed by someone standing by and witnessing the events described. The tone of the story’s prose is close to journalism and rarely uses extravagant or figurative language. Even the stereotypical characterization of the Prussian officer is built entirely through describing his physical appearance and his actions. He is never called ‘‘beastly’’ or ‘‘sadistic.’’ The reader must infer these qualities from his actions.
Another French aesthetic school of the late nineteenth century was symbolism, which held that meaning could be more powerfully communicated by the use of dramatic symbols that would evoke a spectrum of meanings in the reader’s mind that was drawn from the shared knowledge of myth and art, and from the innate commonalities of the unconscious mind. In general Maupassant had little use for this type of writing, but he nevertheless indulges in it in his description of the bombardment fired by the Mont-Vale´rien fort against unseen Prussian forces, which is built into a symbol of the futility of war. But even this is largely accomplished by the evocation of the concrete loss of the families of any Prussian soldiers who might be killed by the action (since their distant deaths could not be seen, they are left to the reader to infer or imagine).
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.