Moonlight' by Guy de Maupassant: The Story of the Priest Abbe Marignan

Guy De Maupassant's, 'Moonlight' is a story about a priest, Abbe Marignan, who is a very faithful follower of God and accepts all of his creations as a part of his plan except women. He absolutely despises women and sees them as a deceitful creature, a trap that only seduces men. He believes that God himself isn’t very fond of women as his creation and Marignan thinks that their love is just a temptation meant to test men. The main conflict of the story is an internal one within the priest and it is between accepting women and love between a man and a woman as a part of God's plan or not. Throughout the story, the two opposing sides of the conflict are: whether Abbe Marignan should accept women and love between a man and a woman as one of God’s beautiful creations and become a tolerant man or continue to hate them and stay the way he is right now. The opposing sides can be seen clearly through the different plot elements of the author’s narrative techniques, characters surrounding Abbe Marignan and the setting. In the end, however, the priest resolves his conflict by accepting women and love as a part of God’s plan and he becomes a more tolerant person as well as a better priest.

Maupassant wrote “Moonlight” in a third-person point of view and his narrative techniques clearly show us the two sides of Marignan’s conflict: whether to accept women and the love between a man and a woman as a part of god’s plan or continue to despise them and disregard them as one of God’s magnificent creations just like nature and everything else. At the beginning of the story, the author introduces the priest and gives us an idea about his character and his views about women. He states Marignan’s thoughts about women as, “She was the temptress who had ensnared the first man…a weak creature, dangerous, curiously disturbing”. Abbe clearly dislikes women and only sees them as weak creatures, he thinks that it was Eve who seduced Adam into eating the forbidden fruit which resulted in their banishment from the garden of Eden. The author then tells us about how Abbe believes that women are nothing but traps as he writes, 'She was, in fact, even shaped like a trap…and her lips parted for a man”. Through these lines, the reader can clearly see that for the priest, women were just traps that men had to be careful from in order to avoid their downfall. The priest also thinks that a woman’s physical appearance is just a medium to lure men and seduce them, their beauty, to him, is a weapon that they use in order to tempt men and then destroy them.

Even though Maupassant’s initial narration shows Marignan’s hatred towards the womankind, his description changes towards the end of the story, showing us the other side of Marignan’s conflict as well as his resolve to accept women and the love between a man and a woman. When Marignan goes out at night to confirm the news that he had received about his niece having an affair, the author gives us a very contrasting description of what the priest witnesses and what he feels. The writer describes the pair as, “a single being, the being for whom this calm and silent night was intended”. This description is clearly different from what the author had written earlier, describing women and their love as a trap. Now, the priest is starting to think that men and women were meant to be together and they not only looked perfect together but they completed each other. The author further describes Marignan’s thoughts as, “...he felt as if he were looking at a biblical scene, like the love of Ruth and Boaz…”. These thoughts clearly show us the other side of Marignan's conflict; to accept women and love as a part of God’s plan. The sight of his niece with her lover was so beautiful and so perfect for the priest that he couldn’t help but compare it with a scene from the bible. In contrast to his thoughts before, Marignan now accepts women and their love and thinks that, just like God’s other creations, women and their love held a deeper meaning that he had failed to understand. The reader through Maupassant’s narrative techniques can see the priest's resolve and a change in his thoughts regarding women and the love shared between a man and a woman.

Along with the narrative techniques of the author, the two characters: nuns of the convent and the niece also reflect the two sides of Marignan’s conflict and his resolve. The nuns of the convent suffered greatly because of the priest’s narrow-mindedness and his unacceptance of women. The priest was really cruel to them the nuns, “He was indulgent only of nuns…and he treated even them severely”. Even though the nuns had taken vows, he still didn’t accept them and believed that even their vows were false. For Abbe, all women were evil and deceitful, even the nuns, towards them he was especially harsh, not caring if his words made them shed tears. He felt the yearning towards them but he ignored it, thinking that it was just a trap as he believed that all women were same and their love was a bait to trap men. As he, “Felt it—this wicked the sweetness of their their submissive tears when he rebuffed them rudely”. He was still ignorant and harsh towards them, his hatred towards women was so strong that he, as a priest, had become cold and stone-hearted and even disregarded the nun’s feelings. He failed to see the reality and the nun’s devotion, showing us the opposing side of his conflict: his unacceptance of women and the love between a man and a woman.

Although Marignan despised women and even the nuns, his feelings were quite different towards his niece who lived with her mother near the church. Unlike with the nuns, Abbe cares for his niece and he feels a certain feeling of protectiveness towards her. He has this urge to protect her and his niece manages to wake, “Deep within him, those paternal impulses which slumber in every man”. Abbe feels the need to protect her and instead of ignoring her, he looks after his niece, he cares for her and that is why he is, “determined to make her a Sister of Charity”. He doesn’t want his niece to become like other women because of the feeling of protectiveness that he has for her. The priest feels like a guardian towards her and so when he hears about the news of his niece having an affair, he is angry, but the reason of his anger wasn’t the fact that she seduced a man but because she was like a daughter to him. His anger was driven by the paternal feelings within him and he, “Shared that self-centred feeling of suffocation experienced by parents whose daughter…despite them—chosen a husband”. The reader here can see how Abbe’s feelings towards his niece were very different from the ones he had towards the nuns or any other woman. The priest felt cheated not because his niece had seduced a man but because she had a lover and Abbe knew nothing about it. The other side of his conflict is clear through his niece, Abbe hated all women but his feelings towards his niece were different and he, instead of ignoring her or being hostile, he accepts her as someone he needs to look after. Even though Abbe has a hard time accepting the fact that she has an affair, when he finally sees his niece with her lover, he doesn’t take any harsh actions and simply leaves the scene. We can see the other side of the conflict and the priest’s resolve; he accepts women and the love between a man and a woman and becomes a more tolerant man.

In addition to the characters surrounding Marignan, Maupassant, through the contrasting setting of the story, shows us the two sides of the priest’s conflict: whether he should accept women and the love between a man or not. Through the different setting, we also see the priest’s resolve to the conflict, his acceptance of women and the love shared by a man and a woman. In the first setting of the story, the convent, the priest treats the nuns severely just because they’re women. He ignores their feelings and their devotion towards God, clearly showing the first side of his conflict: his unacceptance of women. After being harsh to the nuns, Abbe leaves the convent in a hurry, he, “shook out his soutane on leaving the gates of a though fleeing from danger”. He leaves the convent as if he was running away from danger as he believed that women were evil and just a trap that seduced men. Along with the convent, his room also plays a vital role in showing us his unacceptance of love between a man and a woman. He is angry and frustrated after receiving the news about his niece’s affair and he is so bothered by the news that he, “After dinner, he even tried to read a bit, but he could not get into it. He got more and more exasperated”. The priest is clearly angry and frustrated because he just can’t seem to accept the love between his niece and her mystery lover. He is so mad that he even ends up breaking his walking stick, he, “Then, suddenly, raised it and, gritting his teeth, brought it down on a chair, knocking it splintered back to the floor”. This kind of violent behaviour in the room shows the reader how much he was against the fact that his niece is having an affair. He just didn’t want to accept the romantic love between a man and a woman and his hostile behaviour further throws light on the first part of the conflict: his unacceptance of women and the love shared by a man and a woman.

On the contrary to his earlier frustration and angry behaviour in his room and the convent, Abbe’s feelings and actions are quite different outside at night where he sees his niece with her lover. When Abbe steps out of the church at night to confirm the news about his niece having an affair, his earlier anger and frustration is drained out by the beautiful sight of the moonlight and how its soft light bathed the scenery, giving it a heavenly look. As Abbe walked in the moonlight, “He felt feeble, suddenly drained; he wanted to sit down, to stay admire God in His handiwork”. The priest is calmed by the serene moonlight and the beautiful sight of the scenery in front of him, quite opposite to his behaviour earlier in his room and the convent. He just wanted to sit and admire the beauty of nature in the moonlight, almost forgetting about his niece and the reason why he had come out this late. When Abbe walks further and finally sees his niece with her lover, he was astonished as to how beautiful the two looked under the soft moonlight, “under the vault of the trees drenched with glowing mist”. The angelic sight and the beautiful setting made Abbe realize that men and women were made for each other and that women and the love shared between a man and a woman had a much deeper meaning that he, as a priest, had failed to understand. At night, after seeing his niece and her lover together, Abbe, “fled, distraught, almost ashamed, as if he had entered a temple where he had no right to be”. Through this action of the priest, the reader can understand and see the change in the priest’s character and his feelings. This time the priest again leaves hurriedly but compared to his feelings earlier at the convent, the priest is now leaving because he has accepted women and love between a man and a woman as apart of God’s plan, he was ashamed of his actions and misunderstanding. The beautiful setting at the end of the story gives us the other side of Marignan’s conflict and his resolve, he accepts women and the love between a man and a woman. It also shows the reader a change in his character which is calmer and more tolerant compared to his hateful character at the beginning of the story.

“Moonlight” is a story that clearly shows a major change in Abbe Marignan’s attitude and views. Through Maupassant’s narrative techniques, the characters surrounding Abbe and the beautiful, serene setting of the story, the reader can see the transformation in Abbe Marignan’s character and how he becomes a better priest and a more tolerant man, as compared to his character in the beginning. By the end of the story, the priest has given up his old beliefs and broadened his perspective, accepting women and the love between a man and a woman as a part of God’s plan. This change in the priest’s views signifies his growth as a priest and as a human being.

07 July 2022
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