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My Uncle Jules: Summary & Analysis

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Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

Guy de Maupassant is a novelist and short story writer who specializes in surprise, irony, and tragedy. ~'My Uncle Jules~' is no exception. In this lesson, we'll summarize and analyze the events in this short story. Updated: 09/13/2021

''My Uncle Jules'': Summary

''My Uncle Jules'' is a frame narrative, which is a story within a story. In Maupassant's tale, the outer frame introduces an unnamed narrator and Joseph Davranche, who gives an old beggar five francs. In Maupassant's lifetime (1850-1893), this was fairly generous. Joseph explains his act by telling the story about his uncle, Jules.

The main narrative is about Joseph's immediate family and his uncle, Jules. His family lives in Le Havre, a coastal town in Normandy, France. The Davranche family is fairly poor, a condition which Joseph's mother passive-aggressively blames on his father. His two adult sisters sew their own clothes, and the family survives on plain, monotonous meals.

Joseph's uncle Jules, whom Joseph has never met, has squandered the Davranche inheritance. However, he's emigrated to New York and written to the family twice, explaining that he's doing well and hopes to return to Le Havre one day. He plans to repay Philippe, Joseph's father, his share of the inheritance, leaving the family to place all their hope in Jules to secure their financial future.

Every Sunday, the family members dress in their best clothes and walk along the docks of Le Havre, watching the steamships come in and hoping to attract marriage prospects for the sisters. Each week, Joseph's father muses how wonderful it would be if Jules happened to be on one of the steamers.

Based on Jules' promise of financial recompense, a young man marries the younger sister, and the Davranche family celebrates by taking a trip on a steamship to nearby Jersey, England. On the way, they observe an ''old, ragged sailor'' selling oysters to passengers as light refreshment. Philippe thinks he resembles Jules, and they soon learn from the captain that, indeed, he is, and that he's been avoiding returning to Le Havre because he owes the family money.

Humiliated and afraid Jules might ask for their help, most of the family make themselves scarce so he won't see and recognize them. However, Joseph approaches his destitute uncle, pays him for the oysters, and gives him ten cents as a tip. His family is outraged, but Joseph pities his uncle, noting that he disappeared afterward ''below to the dirty hold [lower cargo area] which was the home of the poor wretch.''

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''My Uncle Jules'': Analysis

Among other devices, Guy de Maupassant is known for his ironic plot twists, and ''My Uncle Jules'' is no exception in doing this. Remember that an outcome directly opposite of the one expected is what we mean by ironic. The main irony of the story is that the Davranche family consider themselves very badly off financially, and are counting on Jules, whom they've been led to believe has gone from broke to successful, to improve their lives. The husband of the younger Davranche sister is counting on this, too; it's the reason he proposed.

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