The Adopted Son: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson you will learn about Guy de Maupassant's short story 'The Adopted Son.' We will look at a summary of the work as well as information about the characters.

In the Beginning

How does your favorite book start? Many works of literature start by setting the stage so that the main events in the story have a base. This might mean giving a description of the setting, or the place where the work takes place, and some background on the characters. One piece that sets the scene this way is Guy de Maupassant's short story ''The Adopted Son.'' He does not go very in-depth as far as description is concerned, but he gives enough background to give weight to the central story.

The story is set in two cottages, which are next to each other near the ocean in France. The two families, the Tuvaches and Vallins, are farmers, but the soil in the area is not good for growing crops.

The two families are very poor and very similar. They live next door to each other and have the same number of children who are the same ages. Maupassant tells us that the families are so similar that ''The two mothers could hardly distinguish their own offspring among the lot, and as for the fathers, they were altogether at sea.''

This information sets up the story so that the differences in the families that come later are much more dramatic by comparison to their initial similarities.

The Visitors

As the story continues, the families have visitors. Madame Henri d'Hubieres and her husband are driving by when they see the children, and they stop to meet them. She begins coming regularly to play with them and give them treats.

The couple are driving their phaeton when they see the children.

After several visits, the couple meet with the Tuvaches and ask if they can adopt the youngest Tuvache child, Charlot. No reason is given for their choosing Charlot first, except that he is the first child Madame d'Hubieres sees when she stops by initially. The couple offer to adopt him as their heir and give the Tuvaches a monthly stipend as compensation. The family adamantly refuses. The parents are insulted that the couple would try to buy their child.

Madame and Monsieur d'Hubieres then go next door and ask the same thing about the Vallins' youngest, Jean. The Vallins accept. This causes a huge rift between the families. The Tuvache mother insults the Vallins and constantly reassures Charlot that she would never sell him and that what the Vallins have done is horrible.

A significant part of mother Tuvache's anger lies in her jealousy. We see that, ''The Vallins lived comfortably, thanks to the pension. That was the cause of the unappeasable fury of the Tuvaches, who had remained miserably poor.''

The Tuvaches know they could have accepted the offer and been well-off, and they are angry as a result.

The Return

When he is 21, Jean Vallin returns. We see that he is very well-off, and the Vallins show him around town so everyone can see that. Charlot Tuvache is angry at his parents because he realizes that that wealthy life could have been his if they had accepted the offer. He tells them this and leaves. The final lines of the story are as he is walking out:

''He opened the door. A sound of voices came in at the door. The Vallins were celebrating the return of their child.''

This contrast clearly shows the split between the two families. They were almost identical at the beginning, yet now one family is watching its angry son leave home for good, while the other is welcoming a son home.



Three sets of families make up the characters, or participants, in this story. The first is the Tuvache family. There is the mother, the father, and four children, but only the youngest child, Charlot, is given a first name. Otherwise, each is simply referred to as ''mother Tuvache,'' ''father Tuvache,'' and so on. They are very poor throughout the story.


The second family is the Vallins. They, too, have a mother, father, and four children, and once again it is only the youngest, Jean, who is given a first name. They are very poor until Jean is adopted by the d'Hubieres, but following that they live comfortably.

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