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Maupassant's The Wolf: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Millie van der Westhuizen

Millie is currently working in tertiary education, whilst completing her master's degree in English Studies.

In this lesson, you'll be provided with a summary of Guy de Maupassant's short story, The Wolf, as well as looking at a basic analysis of the story's structure and purpose.

Understanding Guy de Maupassant's 'The Wolf'

Originally published in 1884, Guy de Maupassant's The Wolf is one of many stories in which the author explores the concept of fear. The story is interesting in how it encourages the reader to question whether the story told by the Marquis d'Arville is realistic or not.

Summary of 'The Wolf'

The story begins with an unnamed narrator recounting an evening in which his party had returned from a successful hunting expedition. Over dinner, they discuss ''the slaughter of animals,'' with some recounting ''incredible tales.'' The Marquis d'Arville, who has never gone hunting, then begins a narrative involving his distant ancestor Jean d'Arville and his younger brother Francois. We are told that the Marquis must have told this tale several times, since his narrative contained poetic imagery, and skillfully chosen words, all flowing naturally into a vivid tale.

The Marquis tells the party that, for his ancestors, hunting was ''the only thing they spoke of and lived for,'' with them finding any excuse to go hunting and spending many days away from the house in pursuit of various animals. One day, they hear reports of a huge, cunning wolf that was terrorizing the locals, preying not only on livestock and injuring guard-dogs, but also wounding a woman and eating two children. As a result, the brothers resolve to find and kill the beast.

After several unsuccessful attempts at locating the great grey wolf, they note that the wolf seems spiteful— attacking specifically on evenings when they set out to kill it. After having two of their hogs eaten by the wolf, the brothers set out with an even greater resolve to find and kill the wolf.

This leads the brothers to set out on a hunt which lasts until the evening. Whilst returning to their château and reflecting on how strange a creature this particular wolf seemed, the two men's horses suddenly became startled and the wolf leaped from a bush, speeding off through the woods.

The brothers set off in full pursuit, but during this frantic chase Jean fails to notice a large overhanging branch and hitting his head, fractures his skull and is killed by this blow. Francois comes across his brother's lifeless, mangled body, which was knocked off his horse during the collision. Grief-stricken, Francois is suddenly struck by a tremendous fear and, placing his brother's corpse across the saddle of his own horse, starts back towards the château.

On his way, however, the wolf suddenly appears. Francois, suddenly overcome with bravery and a desire for vengeance, leaps at the wolf, seizing the wolf by the neck, strangles it to death. In a delirious state, Francois arrives at the chateau, telling all about the night's events, — speaking triumphantly of his victory over the wolf, but ''moaning and tearing at his beard' as he recounts his brother's tragic death.''

The Marquis ends his tale with the claim that it was this loss that led Jean's widow to instill in her child a horror of hunting, and that this horror was transmitted from father to son, through the generations, thereby explaining why he did not join the party for their hunt.

The unnamed framing narrator then resumes his narrative, telling us that the Marquis became silent, until a fellow guest inquires as to whether the story is true. The Marquis confirms that it is, but a woman claims that, whether the story is true or not, it is ''a wonderful thing to have such enthusiasm.''

Analysis of The Wolf

First off, it is important to note that, instead of having the Marquis d'Arville as a first person narrator, de Maupassant makes use of a frame narrative (meaning that another narrative 'sets the stage' for the main one). As is often the case with this device, the technique ensures that the reader remains aware of the fact that the main narrative is a story that is being told. This, alongside the fact that one of the guests at the dinner openly questions the truthfulness of the narrative, encourages the reader to approach this story with some skepticism.

Another interesting aspect to the main narrative, is the fact that the Marquis' account of the wolf instills in the listener a slight sense of the supernatural. The wolf is repeatedly compared to a man, due to the level of cunning it displays, as well as the feeling the brothers get of the wolf as vengeful creature. Along with this comparison, the wolf's presence seems to fill people with an inexplicable sense of fear and dread, even before they note his presence.

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