Paris was cut off. Paris was starving. Paris hung by a thread. Sparrows were rare on rooftops. The rat population in the sewers had thinned. People were eating anything.
In six sharp lines Guy de Maupassant establishes the scene and context for the story “Two Friends.” That paragraph is misleading though, since David Coward’s translation differs from most I’ve read. The more common translation is:
Besieged Paris was in the throes of famine. Even the sparrows on the roofs and the rats in the sewers were growing scarce. People were eating anything they could get.
In either case we understand the context for the short story. What develops in this context is a story about two friends whose common bond is fishing. They run into each other for the first time since the war has started and spend time drinking and reminiscing. They turn to the topic of fishing and the character, Monsieur Sauvage asks, “What if we went now?” He goes on to say, “The French have got their forward positions down Colombes way. I know Colonel Dumoulin. They’ll let us through easy.”
It’s decided and they proceed with their fishing trip. Of course, there’s a war going on, but that shouldn’t matter. How would this story differ if Maupassant had not placed it during the war? Why not have the story take place after the war? What’s the story about? Is it about two friends fishing, or is it about the affects of the Franco-Prussian War? The story uses the act of fishing, the simplicity of fishing to explore male friendship and comment on war. In seven pages Maupassant is able to accomplish an extraordinary feat. He makes us believe in the characters, care about them, see the world through their eyes, and taste the destruction of war. We watch as the characters, Sauvage and Morrisot, are bent under the pressures of war and see whether or not they will snap.