Kyle LaBerta

Mrs. Cartier

Honors English II

January 26th, 2012

Contrasting “A Piece of String” and “A Problem”

“A Piece of String” by Guy de Maupassant is a story of a man who is falsely accused and spends the rest of his life trying to prove his innocence. “A Problem” by Anton Chekhov is a story of a boy who is rightfully accused but is forgiven his crime. I believe that these are two very different stories which vary in some key areas. This essay will show differences in the main characters, conflicts, and resolutions of these two stories.

In “A Piece of String”, the main character, Maître Hauchecorne, is an old, thrifty farmer with high regards for honor and who cares very much what other people think of him. When Maître Hauchecorne first arrives in the Goderville market, he happens upon a piece of string on the ground. “Maître Hauchecorne, a thrifty man like all true Normans, reflected that anything which might come in useful was worth picking up, so he bent down – though with some difficulty, for he suffered from rheumatism.”(De Maupassant 798). This quote shows that he is a thrifty man. As Maître Hauchecorne is picking up the string, Maître Maladain, the saddler with whom Maître Hauchecorne is feuding with, is watching him. “Maître Hauchecorne felt a little shamefaced at being seen by his enemy like this, picking a bit of string up out of the muck.”(De Maupassant 798). Through this quote, one can see that he cares how people feel about him. Maître Hauchecorne cares what people think of him, but he wants them to see the truth about him and not some false pretense of who he is. He is truly an honest man.

In “A Problem”, the main character is Sasha Uskov, a selfish, spoiled boy who doesn’t understand the value of a dollar, so to speak, and has little regard for his own honor. Chekhov writes, “If Siberia, then let it be Siberia, damn it all!”(Chekhov 818). This shows that Sasha isn’t interested in defending himself which speaks to his lack of regard for honor. Directly after Sasha says this, Chekhov writes,

"Criminal" is a dreadful word -- that is what murderers, thieves, robbers are; in fact, wicked and morally hopeless people. And Sasha was very far from being all that. . . . It was true he owed a great deal and did not pay his debts. But debt is not a crime, and it is unusual for a man not to be in debt. The Colonel and Ivan Markovitch were both in debt.... (Chekhov 818)

This may seem to contradict my conclusion about Sasha’s view of his honor. But, honor, as defined by, means “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions”. Bythis definition Sasha Uskov most certainly lacks honor or much care for it. The characters’ different views on honor are the main basis for my contrasting them.

The next element that sets these two stories apart is the conflicts in both. In “A Piece of String” the main conflict is Maître Hauchecorne’s struggle to prove his innocence to everyone around him.

He talked of his adventure all day long; he told it on the highway to people who were passing by, in the wineshop to people who were drinking there and to persons coming out of church the following Sunday. He stopped strangers to tell them about it. He was calm now, and yet something disturbed him without his knowing exactly what it was. People had the air of joking while they listened. They did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel that remarks were being made behind his back. (De Maupassant 801).

This quote shows that Maître Hauchecorne was trying very hard to denounce the accusations brought against him by Maître Maladain but people just wouldn’t believe him. Overall the conflict wasn’t Maître Hauchecorne’s fault. He was just the victim of false accusations and circumstance.

In “A Problem” the main conflict is whether or not Sasha will be forgiven. But unlike in “A Piece of String”, the conflict was entirely Sasha’s fault. “He had discounted a forged note.” (Chekhov 818). When asked to speak on his behalf, which could have resolved the whole conflict, Sasha had only this to say, “I'll pay it... I'll give it back....” (Chekhov 818) and when his uncle asked what he had hoped to accomplish by forging the note he said, “I... Handrikov promised to lend me the money before now.”(Chekhov 818). His effort to defend himself only leads his uncle, the Colonel, to condemn him further. The two conflicts arose for different reasons and were handled in vastly different ways by each character.

The final contrast is between the resolutions of the two stories. In “A Piece of String”, the conflict is resolved when Maître Hauchecorne dies old, alone, and forever in everyone’s minds, a guilty man. “"Those are lying excuses," they said behind his back. He felt it, consumed his heart over it and wore himself out with useless efforts. He wasted away before their very eyes.”(De Maupassant 801).

In “A Problem”, the conflict is resolved with Sasha’s uncle Ivan making one last appeal to the other uncles saving Sasha from prosecution but in the end Sasha learns nothing. He threatens his uncle for some money for a party not even ten minutes after being exonerated.

“"Uncle, lend me a hundred roubles," he said to Ivan Markovitch. His uncle, surprised, looked into his face and backed against a lamp-post. "Give it to me," said Sasha, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other and beginning to pant. "Uncle, I entreat you, give me a hundred roubles." His face worked; he trembled, and seemed on the point of attacking his uncle. . . . "Won't you?" he kept asking, seeing that his uncle was still amazed and did not understand. "Listen. If you don't, I'll give myself up tomorrow! I won't let you pay the IOU! I'll present another false note tomorrow!"” (Chekhov 820)

Sasha has obviously learned nothing from the ordeal, as shown by this quote. At the end of the story, he resolves, “"Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal."”

The differences in these two stories are abundant. The three differences discussed in this essay are the three largest reasons that these stories can’t be compared. The main characters are different on many key levels including, but not limited to: innocence, background, and views on their own honor. The conflicts differ in the fact that, in the case of Maître Hauchecorne, it is entirely unwarranted and the result of false accusations and circumstance. In Sasha’s case the conflict was his fault. And finally the resolutions bare no similarity seeing as the innocent man, Maître Hauchecorne, dies an honest man considered a criminal and the guilty man, Sasha, lives a criminal considered an innocent youth.