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To what extent should we sympathise with De Maupassant’s Madame Loisel and Owen’s disabled Soldier?

By julius22foo Feb 02, 2014 1919 Words
Owen and De Maupassant both write with ambiguous authorial voice to portray different aspects of the central characters. ‘The Soldier’ is a man who has gone through a dramatic, life changing subversion whilst ‘Madam Loisel’ One might be inclined to think that both the authors of the two short stories write to make the reader feel unsympathetic and therefore negative towards the main character of each story. Or on the other hand, they might both write sympathetically about each character in order to shape a positive response for the reader. The authors of both may write using many ironies to mock the character thus making us feel sympathetic or might write and describe the character to be an ostracized, detested character making the reader dislike and loath the character. We may also consider the techniques which the writers use that may emphasize the positive or negative responses the reader might get. Wilfred Owen and Guy De Maupassant use very descriptive writing in their pieces which not only helps us understand the literal meaning, but the metaphorical reference or reference to the past. ‘Disabled’ is a poem which describes a soldier who has come back from fighting in the war. Owen may shape our responses towards the soldier so that we might feel sympathetic by describing what melancholy and depression the disabled soldier has suffered after having gone to the war. This may incline one to give a positive response.

In the first line of the poem, we might feel sympathetic towards the soldier primarily because he is disabled: “He sat in a wheeled chair…” This may mean that he may not only be disabled for a long time, but also be sitting in a wheeled chair not being able to do things for himself. He will have to receive help from others and rely on whether his close friends and family will help. Prior to this, we might feel very sad and sympathetic because we can see the pain, suffering and dependence the soldier will have to endure for the rest of his life. The soldier also starts to react to not only the physical loss of his life but the mental scarring as he acknowledges the fact that he will forever now be abhorrent to women. Owen portrays this in a physical context where the soldier has the disability of doing something. “He will never again feel again how slim girls’ waist are.” Line 4. We may get the feeling that the soldier may have given up on life and that he misses the past dearly. We may feel sorry and sympathetic as he is at a loss physically and mentally. Unfortunately for the soldier, the war has caused the young man to grow up overwhelmingly quickly in that he has lost all his boyish charm, charisma and youth. The soldier has indeed gone from youth to elderly in a matter of a year. Owen exemplifies this by writing, “for it was younger than his youth, last year.” Line 15. Owen also writes about his looks: “He’s lost his colour very far from here.” We might feel compelled to sympathise with him because he may also be sad and depressed. In addition to this, there are many ironies Owen uses to try and mock the character of the soldier. Owen may use this in order to emphasize the soldier’s loss. Owen presents these ironies by using the concept of reversal. The first example: “One time he liked a blood smear down his leg…” Line 21. This is ironic because the soldier previously took pride and satisfaction with the injuries he gets, whereas now that he is injured to a greater extent, he feels quite the opposite. “He noticed how the women’s eyes/passed…him…Why don’t they come/and put him to bed?” This also exemplifies Owen’s use of irony; when he sees women passing by him, he longs for them. But previously he would have been the one taking the women to bed. The way Owen mocks the soldier might make the reader feel sympathetic towards him. But on the other hand, Owen might shape our responses in a way that the reader thinks unsympathetically, and therefore negatively of the soldier.

The soldier, when he was a youth had been exceedingly vain and proud of himself. He loved the attention and always tried to impress others. As a youth, the guy was prone to womanizing girls. He wanted to be admired greatly by these girls and had a girlfriend. “That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg.” Line 26. One might give a negative response to the soldier now that we know he is a vain and arrogant man. When the young man went to enlist himself for the army, he lied saying that he was nineteen but in actual fact he was underage. “Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.” He might be considered a bad person now that he has lied. The fact that the people signing his name off were complicit in his dishonesty shows that knew fully well that he was underage. It was obvious to both him and the person he was talking to. Therefore he was rebellious to lie. The soldier, before going off to war did not know of the dangers he was to experience. He was ignorant to the severity of warfare. “Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt.” Line 30. This shows us that he didn’t think much of what the war was like; whether guilty Germans are what he will fight, he did not know. Therefore it was primarily his fault that he got himself into the state he is now in. He wanted to go to war not because he liked warfare but because he wanted to look good. A reader may feel unsympathetic because it was his fault and he deserved the consequence.

‘The Necklace’ is a short story written about a woman called Madame Loisel and her affairs in life. De Maupassant might make her seem dislikeable and irresponsible which shapes our response to be negative.

De Maupassant presents Loisel’s character to be selfish. All she thinks about are her desires and she covets many materials making her a materialistic person overall. “She was every whit as unhappy…” Line 6. This shows that Loisel is discontent with her life and she is depressed. Worst of all, she believes that her life should be better shown by the quote, “she… intended for a life of refinement and luxury.” Loisel often becomes aggravated and angry only because of some unnecessary things. All the things she desires then not gets frustrates her. She wants “silent antechambers,” bronze candelabras” and “drawing rooms.” In addition to this, Loisel can be seen to not only covet but also have obsession and desperation. She says, “And what am I supposed to wear if I were to go?” Not only does this worsen her own life but also makes the reader feel unobligated to help or sympathise with her. We also get the feeling from De Maupassant that Loisel wishes for only the best. So if she doesn’t have the best of what is available, she will not be satisfied. “She had no fine dresses, … no nothing.” As a woman, she will own a dress but not the best therefore making her feel frustrated. The reader may therefore feel that she is unbecoming which is a negative aspect of her. We can see from what I have analysed that Loisel is a very unpleasant person. When she received a surprising gift from her husband who was an invitation to ball, she not only tore it open aggressively and threw it down onto the table but also said, “What earthly use is this to me?” Obviously Loisel is ungrateful although her kind husband has put in the extra effort to get this. These characteristics make the character of Loisel seem unpleasant. The biggest point of all for me is the structural use of irony which De Maupassant uses. Loisel is seen to desire so much and unfortunately loses a borrowed necklace. She then works her whole life to earn money in order to buy the necklace back. But right at the very end of the story, she speaks to her friend who tells her that the original necklace was not a real one. This meant that all her anxiety and hard work over the years to pay this back was for nothing.

On the other hand however, De Maupassant might shape our responses so that we might feel sympathetic to Loisel. The very fact that De Maupassant mocks Loisel and writes descriptions of her to be horrible might make the reader feel sympathetic towards her. In the first paragraph, De Maupassant tells the reader how Loisel “was one of those pretty, delightful girls.” But also says how unlucky she actually is prior to this. De Maupassant makes us feel sorry for Loisel because she is not only just a lower, middle class woman but also a person who deserves more in life. The reader is told about what things Loisel lacks. “She had no means of meeting some… important man who would understand her.” Some might give a sympathetic response. That she deserves better men or better things in life generally. In addition to this De Maupassant makes her look bad by describing her lifestyle. He makes her look poor and diminished by describing her house to be dilapidated and run down. “She was made unhappy by the run down apartment they lived in, the peeling walls, the battered chairs and the ugly curtains.” This might make the reader want to help and comfort Loisel. The reader might also want to comfort Loisel because “for days on end, she would weep tears of sorrow, regret, despair and anguish.” It is evident that Loisel is very forlorn and downcast by her life. One might feel sympathetic because of her sadness. But when we look on the bright side of her life, she is also seen as a determined woman as she gives a lot of effort in paying the price of her mistake of losing the necklace. Her persistence to resolve her problem is immense and must be complimented. The reader may not feel sympathetic but just positively towards her character. Loisel, by the end of the story feels very aware of what has happened in her life and she felt embarrassed when Madame Forestier tells her that the original necklace was fake. “She smiled a proud innocent smile.” This quote sums up a lot about her life. Proud shows her arrogance whilst Innocent shows her naivety and ignorance to what has happened. This is a form of structural irony which subverts the whole story. It is possible for the reader to create different, opposing responses to ‘Disabled’ and ‘The Necklace’ because both authors use ambiguous authorial voice throughout. Indeed they may write to make the character see mocked which may create a sympathetic approach or make the character look malicious and unbecoming to create an unsympathetic approach. The soldier does indeed reminisce to the past “when glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees/ And girls danced lovelier as the air grew dim.” And as a youth, the soldier was a man who enjoyed life to the full and respected it much more than that of Madam Loisel. The fact that the soldier is now in a ‘wheeled chair’ brings me to conclude that I should sympathise with him.

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