Bel Ami

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  • Topic: The First Man
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French 0080
December 13, 2004
The Devil’s Workshop
The American dream sustained by millions of immigrants in the last three centuries is built upon blind, optimistic faith that hard work and effort will bring about good fortune to good and righteous people. However, this dream does not always become reality and many times, it is the people who work the least who are the most fortunate in terms of wealth and success. In three famed French novels, the effects of money, power, and idleness in Bel-Ami, The Immoralist, and The Vagabond are made known as this degeneration of the morals and/or self-worth of the characters involved are depicted. Maupassant’s novel, Bel-Ami, tells the tale of Georges Duroy and his climb up the social ladder in the 1880’s. At the beginning of the novel, Duroy is a simple clerk who works hard for very small wages and who is forced to husband his resources so that he can afford the rent for his apartment in the slums and his one meager meal per day. This existence bores and disgusts Duroy however, due to his lack of formal education and social connections he is unable to find a better paying position until his chance meeting with an old army friend, Forestier. With a gift of forty francs for a set of evening clothes, he is catapulted into aristocratic society as he is invited to dine with Forestier, his wife, and several business colleagues and friends. Although his personal experiences are limited, he regales his fellow dinner guests with stories about his time spent in Africa and before the evening is over, he is commissioned for an article on a cavalryman’s view of life in colonial Africa. The journalist’s position is drastically different from the occupation which he currently occupies given the flexibility with work and with an improved salary and Duroy jumps at this opportunity to promote himself into a more respected job. However, he finds himself unable to compose the article that is requested of him and approaches his friend for help. When Forestier instructs Duroy to go to his wife for aid, Duroy was nervous “wondering what he was going to say and uneasy about the welcome he might receive” (34, Bel-Ami). He is aware at this point that such behavior, visiting someone’s wife early in the morning and while she is dressed in a negligee, is not appropriate. However, he is encouraged by both Forestiers and spends time with alone with Madeleine, an act which was not socially acceptable at the time, and stays until the article is completed by her. Again, Duroy’s conscience forces him to hesitate signing his name to the article entirely composed by another, but he is compelled to by Madeleine. With the article written and completely disregarding this dishonesty, Duroy submits it to the newspaper as his own work. This act of plagiarism is markedly the first step that Duroy takes up the social ladder and the first step down the ladder of morality. Duroy is engaged as an employee of ‘La Vie Française’, the newspaper where Forestier works, and the second installment of his series on Africa is requested of him the next day. This position offers him nearly twice his former pay in terms of salary alone and he is also offered commission per line per article. He starts his days at 3 pm each day, rather than at 10am and his line of work is significantly less strenuous than before. However, on the first day when his article is printed, he quits his former job and spends the entire day buying frivolous items before going back to the newspaper offices, sans article. He is briefly reprimanded for his laziness by Forestier and is sent on his first mission with another journalist, St. Potin, to interview two visiting dignitaries. On this outing, St. Potin ‘shows Duroy the ropes’ by taking him out for drinks and gossiping about everyone and everything involved in the paper. He criticizes M. Walter, the head of the paper, and pokes fun at him with Jewish stereotypes. He...
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