The Piece of String: Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Background
  • 0:25 Be Proud of Who You Are
  • 1:09 Avoid Stereotypes
  • 1:52 Reputation Matters
  • 2:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In 'The Piece of String' by Guy de Maupassant, a peasant's life is destroyed after he finds and picks up a little piece of string. In this lesson, we'll examine the themes from this short story.


Christian author, Regina Brett, said 'What other people think of you is none of your business.' If Maître Hauchecorne, the protagonist of Guy de Maupassant's ''The Piece of String'' had followed this advice, he may have saved himself some trouble. This is the story of a French peasant who is accused of a crime he didn't commit. Let's discuss some of the themes from this story.

Be Proud of Who You Are

Maître Hauchecorne's trouble begins when he finds a piece of thin string on the ground. He is beginning to roll it up when he notices his enemy, Maître Malandain, staring at him. Embarrassed that his enemy caught him being so frugal, Hauchecorne 'quickly hid it beneath his blouse and then slipped it into his breeches, pocket, then pretended to be still looking for something on the ground.'

Hauchecorne's odd behavior because of his shame draws suspicion to him. Later, when it's discovered that a wallet has gone missing, Malandain accuses Hauchecorne of stealing it. This shame follows Hauchecorne for the rest of his life. Had Hauchecorne owned his thriftiness instead of trying to hide it, he could have avoided a lot of problems. There is no reason to be ashamed of who you are.

Avoid Stereotypes

The next lesson this story teaches the reader is about avoiding stereotypes. There is a great amount of distrust between the peasants. The narrator describes the way the peasants 'examined the cows, went off, came back, always in doubt for fear of being cheated, never quite daring to decide, looking the seller square in the eye in the effort to discover the tricks of the man and the defect in the beast.'

The peasants are perceived, even by those in the same class, to be untrustworthy. Although the only evidence that Hauchecorne has taken the wallet is the testimony of Hauchecorne's enemy, the entire town is ready to believe that Hauchecorne is guilty. He's treated like a criminal for the rest of his life. If Hauchecorne were an aristocrat, would he have been tortured in this way? Probably not.

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