Two Friends by Maupassant: Setting & Symbolism

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, we will look at two specific aspects of Guy de Maupassant's short story 'Two Friends.' You will learn about the setting, as well as symbolism in the story.

Author's Methods

Each story that you read is going to incorporate different elements of storytelling. These elements include setting, descriptions, literary devices, and so on. They serve to enhance the story and contribute to the plot and the overall tone of a tale. Two such elements play a significant role in 'Two Friends' by Guy de Maupassant. The first is setting, or the time and place of the story. The second is symbolism, which is when an object or person in the story represents something larger than how it is literally described. Both of these contribute to the significance of the story as a whole.


Before you can explore either of these, you must be familiar with the plot. 'Two Friends' centers around Monsieur Morissot and Monsieur Sauvage - friends who used to go fishing every week before the war started. Now they have run into each other again, and they decide to go to their old fishing spot, outside the gates of Paris. They are given a password so they can re-enter, and they make it safely to the river. The men catch a number of fish and pass a pleasant day.

However, they are captured by German soldiers. The officer in charge accuses them of being spies, and tells them that if they do not give him the password, he will kill them. The two men refuse to speak, and the officer kills them and sinks their body in the river.


Let us first look at the setting, or time and place, of this short story.

Time Period

The story is set during the siege of Paris in 1871. This is a significant period of war, and there is a lot of ongoing violence and threats from the attacking Germans and Prussians. Maupassant's peaceful descriptions of weather and landscape are set directly against descriptions of the war.

During their fishing trip, the two men see puffs of smoke where cannonballs have hit. While they watch, '. . .a second puff followed the first, and in a few moments a fresh detonation made the earth tremble.' This type of description keeps the reader grounded in what is going on in the background.

German cannons aimed at Paris in 1871
Siege of Paris 1871


Another aspect of setting is the location where the story takes place. 'Two Friends' is set in and just outside of Paris, France. Morissot and Sauvage run into each other in the city, but leave to go fishing.

Maupassant vividly describes how peaceful and wonderful the fishing spot used to be: 'In the spring. . . the early sun caused a light mist to float on the water. . .'

This clearly contrasts with the famine and war described at the beginning. When the two men meet, we see another pleasant description of a 'bright, cloudless blue' sky. These sets of peaceful and pleasant scenery descriptions serve as a counterpoint to the ongoing war, which regularly intrudes on what seems to be a peaceful outing.


Next, let's look at how symbolism is used in 'Two Friends' to provide themes.

The Two Friends

There are three major symbols in Maupassant's story. The first is the two friends themselves. Morissot and Sauvage symbolize honor and loyalty because of the way they act after they are captured. They know they will die if they do not give up the password, but they give their lives rather than betray their country. This is the ultimate act of honor and loyalty.

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