Guy De Maupassant’s Story, Looking Back is a story of Abbe Maudit and his tragic life. It is centered on Maudit’s unfortunate, traumatic childhood , his isolated life, his disappointments and sorrows, which pushes him to choose a career to be a priest, who sacrificed his personal desires to be in service of people.
The Story begins in M. le Cure’s residence. The atmosphere of the house is quite warm we are introduced to lovely grandchildren of M. le Cure’ Whom does Abbe Maudit tenderly love. Right after the children go to bed, M. La Cure is interested in Abbe Maudit’s loneliness. She is quite curious why he did not have grandchildren, why he did not get married throughout his entire life, to catch a happy sight in his own life.
Maudit begins his sad story from his childhood. He talks about how he was sent to a boarding school unwillingly, how he was thrown into isolation. He implies that he is kind of disappointed by the fact that his family did not choose to stay with him when he needed their affection as a kid but instead sent him to the boarding school for the sake of their futuristic plans about him. He tells he had to grow up without the loving mother and father figures, who left him, grow up with homesickness and over sensitiveness. He is affected by this isolation so much that his child trauma becomes his characteristic throughout his entire life. He reaches sixteen years old and he sees that he is still so sensitive about “every simple contact, every approach, and every current”.
He gets back from the boarding school to Verdiers to stay with his family and still sees the disappointment that the futuristic and pragmatic plans of his family for his future continues, which leaves him bereft of family affection. Upon this, he decides to take long walks to the rural parts of Verdiers where he meets his only fellow, Sam, the dog. He develops a companionship with Sam and enjoys spending time with him. But unfortunate event takes place and Sam gets killed by a cart, which leaves Maudit even more in agony, sensitiveness. It is at this point where he makes the decision that he should not marry with someone or have children, as it would be extremely painful if he lose them just as he did lose Sam in an accident etc. So he decides to sacrifice his own needs for the sake of helping the other people in the community by becoming a priest. He says, “ I was not made for this world”. And the story ends with Maudit leaving the house of M. La Cure.
The story’s main theme is loneliness and isolation. We see that, while telling his story Maudit is always alone. Throughout his life, he complains he cannot develop any intimate relationship with anybody because of his fragile nature. He is only busy with other people’s problems or joys in town. “And indeed he was a good man, benevolent, friendly to all, gentle, and, crown to all, generous”. This is how people in town define his personality. But when we take a close look at him, we see that he is alone, isolated, and lonely inside himself. “ I scarcely ever played; I had no companions; I passed my hours in homesickness; I spent the whole night weeping in my bed.” Therefore we can say that his loneliness haunts him his entire life, even though he seems he is in service of the other people.
His problematic relationship with his parents is the main cause of it. When he needs his parents’ company, he is devoid of such kind of feelings as love, tenderness, and companionship, stuck in a boarding school, growing up with loneliness. We see that later in his life, this absence of love leaves him too delicate that over sensitiveness takes him over his entire life. “I reached my sixteenth year. An excessive timidity had arisen from this abnormal sensitiveness”. His solitude is the main reason why he feels this way to his environment as it makes him grow an over sensitive personality, which deprives him of building friendly relationships with his surroundings. Therefore he cannot take anybody in or out of his life.
One of the other themes in the story is being othered. The society does not accept Maudit as people probably think he is too fragile that he is not ready for life. At some part of the story, when Maudit loses his close friend, the dog, Sam and locks himself inside room and does not get out as he is depressive. At this point, his father asks him: “How will it be when you have real grieves—if you lose your wife or children?” Maudit might not be ready to lose his wife or children. But what is important here is the reason why his father asks this question. The answer is, his father sees this world with indifference: marrying some young woman, having children, maintaining his name etc. His father, in this aspect, does not try to understand his own son as his motto is based on indifference, which leaves Maudit alone in the society. In other words, What society thinks about maintaining a life( marrying and having children) and what Maudit undergoes are totally different, which leaves Maudit othered, different, alienated.
Similarly, people of the town have their prejudices against him. Even though they like him, some part of them demeans his over sensitiveness, which makes him unsuitable for their society. “He laughed readily, and wept also, on slight provocation, just like a woman—which prejudiced him more or less in the hard minds of the country folk.” As it is seen with this quotation, because of his tender nature, because he cries with people, makes him weak in the eyes of the country folk, which again demonstrate the fact that he is being othered by the society. He himself states that he is not made for this world. He accepts the fact that he is the other in terms of handling life .
There is one symbol in the story, and it is the dog Sam. Sam represents friendship for Maudit. He is the only figure in the story he attaches himself. Maudit loves this creature. He develops friendly relationship. This is because he feels he is not alone in this society. Sam cannot speak or make bad comments about his over sensitiveness. Sam just accepts Maudit as he is. They go together over fields, sleep together, which is a sign of good companionship. Maudit’s sense of isolation disappears when he is with Sam, which is the clear sign that Sam is the symbol of friendliness
To sum up, Looking Back is a good story to read. It mainly, moves the reader as it has such kind of important themes and symbols as loneliness, isolation, being othered, friendship etc. These themes and symbols I think are important because they have universal touch; that is, they touch every single human soul. Therefore I can say I like having read Looking Back written by Guy De Maupassant.