"Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant
In peacetime, Monsieur Morissot and Monsieur Sauvage went fishing together every Sunday. During the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, the two friends decide on a whim to go fishing at their old spot, even though it is behind enemy lines. Happily catching fish after fish, the friends ignore the rumbling of cannons-until they are captured by the Prussians. The commander tells the captives he will let them go if they will tell him the password needed to get back across French lines; otherwise, he will kill them. He wheedles and makes promises, yet the friends remain silent. The friends bid farewell to one another, then are executed, and the Prussians toss the two bodies into the river.
This story addresses
- war-time survival tactics,
- the proclivity of violence to beget violence.
To encourage students to identify and examine
- identify lengths they might go to in order to survive,
- determine the ramifications of self-sacrifice,
- identify ideals worthy of self-sacrifice,
- understand the tendency of violence to lead to further violence,
- identify alternatives to violence.
Oral Reading with Written Response
Read the story aloud. Pause to discuss issues as they arise. Ask students to identify the ways life has changed since the occupation. Focus on the way these changes affect the outcome of the story.
Use the following questions as springboards to solutions:
- How has life changed since the siege? How do people cope?
- Despite the danger, why do the men decide to go fishing? Is this a rational decision? How might the decision have been influenced by their previous actions? Discuss how teens today decide to engage in behaviors that involve risk.
- Had Doumoulin not given the men passes, would they still have gone? Explain. Is Doumoulin at all responsible for the men's deaths? Explain.
Sauvage jokes when asked about running into Prussians. How does humor diffuse tense situations? Can it interfere with better judgment? Explain.
- The men discuss the inability of governments to keep peace. Considering that governments are made up of people, what does this imply about people?
- The Prussian officer offers the men a way to save themselves. Why does neither take it? What would you have done in a similar situation?
How can the officer take the men's lives so casually? What does this suggest about the tendency to grow immune to violence? Does his eating the fish support this? Explain.
- What actions could each character have taken to avoid the violent resolution? How can you relate the events in the story to your experiences with violence and aggression?
Ask students to brainstorm their faulty past decisions. Instruct them to identify two of the decisions they can discuss. Pair students and have pairs share the circumstances resulting in the bad decisions. Have students work together to identify alternatives to the faulty decisions and strategies for making wiser choices in the future.
Get students thinking about sacrifice. Ask them to identify small sacrifices they've made to benefit others. Some examples to get them thinking could include:
- babysitting instead of going out with friends so parents can relax
- buying a gift for someone with the money you had saved to spend on yourself
- canceling an anticipated engagement to help a sibling with homework
- washing your grandparent's car, instead of your own, when you only had time to do one
After discussing the small sacrifices, lead students into considering larger, more meaningful sacrifices they might make.
Have student pairs rewrite the scene where the men decide to go fishing. Have one character convince the other it is a poor decision after much debate. Instruct students to play out their scene for the class.
Real World Connection
Every day people are injured or killed as a result of poor decision making. Instruct students to comb newspaper and magazine articles for examples. Have them share the articles with the class. Ask them to identify ways the injury or death could have been avoided. Have them determine what they can learn from the victim's experience.