A Son (Maupassant)

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A Son
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: An academician shared his tormenting uncertainty about possibly fathering a son during a past encounter with a servant girl, and his annual visits to observe the man's miserable life.

Two old friends, a senator and a member of the French Academy, were walking in a garden, discussing politics and reminiscing about their past. They came across a beautiful laburnum tree, and the senator commented on how the tree easily reproduced and abandoned its offspring without remorse. The Academician agreed, adding that men often unknowingly fathered children in a similar manner.

He then shared a story from his youth when he and a friend were traveling through Brittany. They stayed at an inn in Pont-Labbé, where his friend fell ill. The inn had a young, attractive servant girl who caught the Academician's eye. One night, he forced himself upon her, and she resisted fiercely. Eventually, he overpowered her, and they had a brief, brutal encounter. The girl later came to him willingly, but they could not communicate due to the language barrier.

The Academician — narrator; an older, respected man; tormented by uncertainty about his possible son.

Thirty years later, the Academician returned to Pont-Labbé and discovered that the girl had died in childbirth. Her son, a lame and dirty stable boy, was now working at the inn. The innkeeper told him that the boy's father was unknown, and the boy had been raised in poverty and ignorance.

The Stable Boy — possible son of the narrator; lame, dirty, and uneducated; alcoholic and unintelligent.

The Academician became obsessed with the idea that he might be the boy's father, and he tried to help him by giving him money and attempting to educate him. However, the boy was an incurable drunkard and could not be helped.

And I tell myself that I have killed the mother and ruined this atrophied being, larva of the stable, born and bred on a dunghill, this man who, if he had been brought up as others are, might have been like others.

Each year, the Academician returned to Pont-Labbé, tortured by the thought that he had fathered this unfortunate man. He could not bring himself to reveal his suspicions, fearing that the boy would exploit and ruin him.

And I have always an unappeasable and painful desire to see him, and the sight of him makes me suffer horribly; and from my window down there I look at him for hours as he pitchforks and carts away the dung of the beasts, repeating to myself: 'That is my son!'

The Academician's friend, the senator, agreed that they should think more about the children who have no father, and they continued their walk, surrounded by the sweet perfume of the laburnum tree.