In Bel-Ami, Guy de Maupassant presents a sardonic literary exploration of social class and ethics through the antics of Charles Duroy.
Duroy, starts out as a sympathetic individual who lacks confidence and has a starving ego. He is a little down on his luck with no money and no job prospects. A chance encounter with an old friend leads to employment with a Parisian newspaper where he starts out at the bottom and stays there due to his lack of talent. After a few evenings in the company of his friend’s wife, Duroy realizes the sure-fire way to climb professional and social ranks is through the affection of society women. Suddenly, his handsome face and charming demeanor become his most valuable assets.
When Duroy’s desire to make something of himself combines with a society rife with corruption, he loses all sense of morality. A once empathetic and sensitive man degrades into a despicable sack of hypocrisy, lust, greed, and arrogance. He rises through the ranks of society through advantageous friendships, trysts, and marriages, caring very little for the destroyed hearts he leaves in his wake. For Duroy, it’s all about whom he can use next to achieve his aims, even it means lying, cheating, and sleeping his way up to the top. Regardless of his behavior, everyone he meets loves him the moment he puts up a shiny façade to hide his conniving soul.
Through Duroy’s story, Maupassant illustrates the frightening influence of media over public opinion, the inequities of stratified society, and the travesty of fame and fortune achieved without merit. At one point, he artfully uses a quotation from Erasmus “In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king” as an explanation for Duroy’s success. From a modern standpoint, Maupassant attacks the same wanton elements of society that plague humanity today. Amoral beings still gain power and wealth, while the masses watch with envy. Unfortunately, those who embody deplorable traits are often idolized and respected if they have enough money, fame, and reside in the upper echelons of society.