Maupassant’s short stories Vendetta and Mother Savage both deal with the subject of revenge. We learn right from the beginning that in both stories, the widowed mothers live in harsh, rough environments where there is an unfriendly atmosphere. Each story features a widowed mother who is grieving the loss of her son, her only child, and becomes determined to exact revenge. Both widows avenge with unique plans to ensure that their victims suffer gruesome, agonising deaths, with which they hope to achieve satisfaction and peace of mind for themselves
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In ‘Vendetta’, Widow Saverini shows a ‘mother’s love’ for her son when she plans to exact revenge for the death of her only child: “you shall be avenged, I tell you. You have your mother’s word, and you know she never breaks it.” Widow Saverini’s love for her son is unique and reserved, possible because of her parents showing lack of emotion in her upbringing. Her love is seen more as a duty to raise her son than to be affectionate and tender loving. Widow Saverini spends many months preparing the dog for the revenge: “for three months she accustomed her to this method of attack”. She shows her determination in the precision she uses to exact her revenge to perfection. Widow Saverini sacrifices the family dog -Semillante- in a cruel and barbaric act: “the woman gave her nothing to eat and maddened with hunger Semillante barked hoarsely”. The cruelty she uses shocks us and it displays her level of cold determination. However it could also be seen as a way of involving her beloved pet to aid her disguise at the revenge. Widow Saverini cleverly creates a human-like figure, with which she uses to practice her revenge: “she took some old clothes that had belonged to her husband, stuffed them with straw to represent a human figure, and made a head out of a bundle of rags.” This tells us that she has great initiative to succeed with her talented resourcefulness of using everything she already owns. Widow Saverini also uses a disguise which prevents her from being caught and killed herself: “she disguised herself to look like a tattered old beggar man.” This shows her intelligence as she has thought everything through, enabling her to make the perfect attack and quick getaway. Also, by using her dog to do the ‘dirty work’, technically she hasn’t committed a murder and she is able to remain disguised and unknown to the public of who she is. Widow Saverini’s anger is devious and we are unable to see her true feelings for her son’s death throughout the story. However we notice that her actions speak louder than words or feelings. Her feeling remain reserved and rather than immediate rage, she is patient and waits three months before she can release her fury. Widow Saverini is full of grief and isolates herself: “she would not allow anyone to remain with her, and shut herself up with the dead body.” She does not want anyone to know her sorrow or to appear weak in front of others. Widow Saverini does not cry until she knows that no one will disturb her “silently shedding great tears.” She feels that she does not need to create an impression when she is on her own and is able to let out her emotions. She feels that the only way to move on is to be active and to avenge her son so that he can rest in peace: “you may sleep in peace. You shall be avenged” Widow Saverini shows commitment to her son as it is the last thing she can do for him.
Despite the company of the young Prussian soldiers, Mother Savage is constantly longing her son to return: “the old woman kept thinking all the time about her own son.” This tells us that she has a motherly bond with her son and wants nothing more but for him to come home again. She cannot help but ask so many questions as she misses him and cannot take her mind off. She also wants to know exactly where her son is and what he is doing and asks questions such as: “do you know where the French regiment has gone- the twenty third infantry? My boy is in it.” Mother Savage does not want to lose her son and wants to keep track of where he is. We see how much she loves her son- from the very beginning to her death she loves him. “She was still clutching her letter soaked in blood”. This shows that unlike Widow Saverini, Mother Savage’s love for her son is much more tender and affectionate, which is how we would expect it to be. Mother Savage is very compassionate towards her son: “she would never kiss him again, her big boy, never!” This is the first thing that she thinks about after her son’s death and it is how we see how close they were to each other. This is a different response to Widow Saverini who is much less emotional and immediately starts to plan her revenge. Mother Savage is determined to avenge her son whether she kills the real murderer or representatives. Both widows show a high level of determination for revenge and see it as the ultimate way to move on. They feel it is the only way how can rest in peace without their sons. Mother Savage acts on her revenge immediately and uses many resources to help her find revenge. Unlike Widow Saverini, who avenges her son’s murderer, Mother Savage uses the Prussian soldiers as representatives to get her revenge. Even though she is planning to kill them, we see that she has some sympathy for the mothers of the sons: “she got them to write down for her on a piece of paper, with the addresses of their families.” This shows that unlike Widow Saverini whose aims are to kill her son’s murderer and to escape punishment, Mother Savage has thought about everything and feels that the families ought to know about the deaths of their sons, just as she did. Mother Savage is very discreet about her grief: “she quickly hid the letter in her pocket and, having had time to wipe her eyes, greeted them calmly, looking her usual self.” Both of the widows- Widow Saverini and Mother Savage, feel a sense of pride and do not want to show their grief in public as they feel it will weaken their reputation.
Mother Savage’s grief for the death of her son is slightly delayed as she is overwhelmed by the sudden news and hesitates before she cries: “so shocked and dazed that she didn’t even feel any grief yet.” Similarly with Widow Saverini, Mother Savage does not cry instantly, yet waits for reality to sink in. She does not want to show her emotions immediately as she wants to remain strong. She loves her son fondly and when she starts to cry: “grief [floods] into her heart” which stresses the pain of how much she misses him. Whilst preparing dinner, the blood of the rabbit causes her to imagine the bloody, gruesome death of her son: “she kept seeing her big boy cut in two and red all over.” This shows that she does have feelings, everything makes her think of her son and she cannot cope. Mother Savage imagines her son’s death: “the head falling, the eyes widening, while he was always chewing the end of his bushy moustache as he always did when he was angry.” We can picture the image vividly in our minds which helps us to engage with her feelings and feel sympathy.
Mother Savage is distraught by the news and this is emphasised by the trauma she experiences when the rabbit is prepared for dinner: “she stripped the skin from the red body; but the sight of the blood which she was touching, which covered her hands, the warm blood which she could feel growing cold and congealing, made her tremble from head to foot; and she kept seeing her big boy cut in two and red all over, like the animal still quivering in her hands.” This shows that she is unfocused and due to the shock of it all, she is relating everything to her son’s death. She does not hesitate to work out a plan of revenge and acts very quickly so that within the same day, she avenges her son, unlike Widow Saverini who plans out her revenge in the course of three months. Mother Savage controls her rage yet anger she holds for the death of her son causes her to take the blame on the four innocent soldiers living with her and with their death, she feels satisfied. She is proud of her revenge and is willing to die for her son as she admits and confesses with satisfaction that she killed the men. Widow Saverini escapes punishment though Mother Savage is honest and executed. In some ways we find her heroic, that as she was willing to die for her son and was unafraid.
The story ‘Vendetta’ is situated on the coast of Corsica in a tough, hostile environment. Widow Saverini’s house is built on a spur of the mountain: “and in places actually overhanging the sea, her town looks across the rockstrewn straits on the low-lying coast of Sardinia”. The rough terrain and the place where Widow Saverini lives, gives us the impression that ‘life is cheap’. The cultural aspect of where she lives is the survival of the fittest and these cultural forces are part of what causes people to act tough and seek revenge. Life is tough and people who live in a harsh environment are bound to be tough and unforgiving. Widow Saverini lives in a house “Clinging to this peak, overlooking this terrible passage, where vessels rarely venture”. The people she lives amongst do not show sympathy for death as it happens every day. Likewise, in similar circumstances, Mother Savage lives in an “isolated house, far away from the village, on the edge of the woods”. These cultural forces contribute towards their responses to upsetting ordeals, e.g. the deaths of their sons.
However, the story of ‘Mother Savage’ is situated in Virelogne in France, in a very beautiful area where there is blossom on trees, little woods and “grounlike veins carrying blood to the earth.” This explains how the area is full of life and naturally beautiful unlike Widow Saverini whose house was amongst a cluster of other houses, Mother Savage lives in the countryside “in an isolated house far away from the village on the edge of the woods.” This tells us that she lives in a ‘small world’, solitary and independent. We also know that though her house is situated in a beautiful setting, cruelty is always beneath the surface.
In ‘Vendetta’, the people do not seem to have the feelings to care and we see that it is a society where no one helps. They are all very determined with mild corruption: “The next day Antoine Saverini was buried, and soon his name ceased to be mentioned in Bonifacio.” This tells us that since death is a frequent occurrence in the area, the people who Widow Saverini lives amongst are tough as they are experienced by murders and vendettas. However, in ‘Mother Savage’ the society’s attitude to death is very different. In Virelogne, the people are kind and pleasant and death is something that is unexpected and rare. The people in the village are jolly and friendly, “women are seen in the street on a spring morning wearing gay, flimsy dresses.” This leaves us with a welcoming pleasant atmosphere where we feel safe. By contrast we see that the people see Mother Savage as an outcast, “people didn’t feel too sorry for her because they knew she had money, so she stayed alone in an isolated house far away from the village”. This shows that they do not wish to have anything to do with her so they ignore her and leave her alone. The region suffers from its effects of the Franco Prussian war. The war is a serious factor and though it is very short, there are many killings and deaths which result in revenge schemes causing problems and slight havoc in the area. Similarly with both stories, ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Mother Savage’, they are centred on the effects of war, which is how the scheme of revenge erupts. In the two stories the wars a very different. In ‘Mother Savage’ the war is completely pointless which resorts to much unnecessary killing, including the death of her son which leads to revenge. Though Mother Savage has a decent amount of money, many of the villagers are members of the lower class and do not. They are severely affected by the war and treated unfairly as they are forced to give refuge to the Prussian soldiers and have no choice, causing them havoc with their lives. Also, Mother Savage is a victim of the war and is full of unbearable grief from her son’s death which is why she responds to the letter in such an inhumane way. In ‘Vendetta’ the community is very rough and, similar to ‘Mother Savage’, she is treated cruelly and after the death of her son; she responds in a very sly yet violent way.
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Mother Savage is treated without any form of justice. She is given no trial and not even the chance to explain the reasons for her actions. She is executed at the scene of her crime roughly twenty minuits after she has had her pleasure of vengeance and is forced to stand against the wall to be shot: “she was seized and pushed against the walls of the house, which were still warm [from the fire].” She is treated with the same brutality that she treated the soldiers with. The behaviour of Mother Savage and the Germans was understandable though it would be unacceptable in our society today. In ‘Vendetta’ there is, similarly with ‘Mother Savage’, no form of justice. The community is rough so due to their behaviour, the law is helpless and since vendettas are expected, nothing happens. When Widow Saverini kills Nicolas Ravolati, though her plan is tactical, there is no search or punishment for her because there is no law and the police force seem to be non-existent. Widow Saverini believes that she is doing right thing by avenging her son and even goes to church to pray for strength: “she besought Him to aid and support her, to lend to her poor, worn-out body the strength she needed to avenge.” This shows us that she believes what she is doing is morally right and does not see it as a crime to kill ones murderer. We also notice the irony of praying to God to help her kill someone. It is mentioned several times in the story that Widow Saverini goes to pray for help from God. From our point of view we believe that she is doing the wrong thing; as it is the opposite of how God wants us to behave. She also goes to church a second time to pray just before she avenges her son: “Widow Saverini went to a confession and communion, in an ecstasy of devotion.” This shows how keen she is to do what she believes is the ‘right’ thing. It also shows us how a much tougher and more hostile community believes that revenge is the right thing to do and that God is always on their side. However in ‘Mother Savage’ the theme of revenge, unlike ‘Vendetta’, is not affected by any religious beliefs.
When we look at Maupassant’s life experiences, we can perhaps understand why he based his stories upon those themes. His mother had been the playmate of the novelist Gustave Flaubert, who was the influence of his career. When Maupassant was very young, his parents separated through divorce, onwards living with his brother and mother. This links to how in both of the two stories, the mothers do not have husbands and are widows with nothing but their only son. This is of a similar circumstance to Maupassant’s childhood. From his early education he retained a marked hostility to religion. This also has similarities with ‘Vendetta’. It was part of the reason to why Widow Saverini planned her gruesome revenge because due to religion she believed she was doing the right thing, when in fact she was not. This shows that he is criticising religion here. Maupassant always loved solitude- like both of the widows, and in his later years he developed a constant desire for solitude, fear of death and crazed paranoia of persecution. In 1892, Maupassant tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat, he later died in 1893. We see that towards the end of his life, he became mentally unstable, later resulting with an attempt of suicide. Maupassant’s characters are very disturbing and we are able to link his mental unstability with them. The two widows seem to be mentally unstable which is because of the cultural and personal forces they live with. Many of the stories that Maupassant wrote are rather sinister and involve the Franco-Prussian war, which he grew up with. The stories have a pessimistic nature due to the problems and illnesses he had in his background life, which also tells us that he was most likely stressed with his life.
In ‘Mother Savage’ we sympathise with the main character, Mother Savage, because we feel sad for how the war has caused her so much grief and anguish towards the Germans. We also sympathise with her because she is willing to die for her son since she loves him so much and despite her honesty she is executed at the wall of her house by the Germans. We look up to her honest behaviour and admire the bravery and courage she has to admit to having killed the soldiers. We respect her personality because though she kills the soldiers, she has the decency to record their addresses and only kills them because they represent the men who killed her son. We also begin to feel quite attached to her because we begin to understand who she is and of her moderate behaviour towards everything that happens. The narrator ends the story with a powerful image, “and I picked up a little stone still blackened by the fire.” This causes us to consider the story and question whether her methods were morally right. However, in ‘Vendetta’ we sympathise more with Widow Saverini’s victim than herself because we condemn her for avoiding punishment and how she does not even consider for once his side of the quarrel between him her son. Also, as we do not even know Widow Saverini’s name, we feel more distant and therefore we sympathise with her less.
The short story form is a very effective way of exploring revenge. Short stories are based upon a single plot which makes it easy to focus on. This meant that we could easily focus entirely on the theme of revenge and explore it in further depth. Short stories also often have a moral/key theme which leaves the ending very memorable and intriguing. Only one or two developed characters are necessary and there are not many descriptive passages so the setting is established quite quickly. This means that we can read the story and get to the point quickly, in this case revenge, and explore in depth the theme of revenge. This makes the whole story a lot more effective. The story ‘Mother Savage’ suggests that Maupassant is condemning revenge as he reminds us that it causes severe punishment and death, although in the story ‘Vendetta’ it suggests that Maupassant is advocating revenge as it is possible to escape punishment and it leaves you with peace of mind. Maupassant seems to leave us to decide whether revenge is good or bad having outlined the factors of both decisions.
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