Here, you will find a summary and questions/answers to the story “A Piece of Bread” by Francois Coppee which is a part of the Class 12 syllabus for students studying under Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE).
Summary: Francois Coppee (1849–1908) spent his entire life in Paris. He was a poet, playwright, literary critic, and author of many short stories. The emotional and patriotic nature of his work is clearly displayed in “A Piece of Bread.”
A Piece of Bread by Francois Coppee is a story about valuing what we have and about friendship. In this story, a wealthy Duke enlists in the French army and goes to the battlefield with the common soldiers, but because he is wealthy, he is dissatisfied with the quality of food served to the soldiers and throws a piece of bread on the mud. A frail soldier picks it up and consumes it. The soldier informs him about how difficult it is to earn a piece of bread. This develops into a friendship between them, and the soldier eventually gives his life for the Duke.
A. Answer these questions
1. Why did the Duke return to Paris?
Answer: The Duke returned to Paris in a patriotic mood after learning that France was losing battles on French soil. As a result, he travelled to Paris and enlisted in the army.
2. Describe the place the young Duke went to.
Answer: The young Duke went to a gloomy place, a road planted with clusters of broom and broken up into muddy ruts that traversed the neighborhood’s leprous fields. On the border, there was a tavern with arches where the soldiers had established their post.
One shuddered at the sight of the tavern. A shield ripped the roof, and the walls appeared to be whitewashed with blood. Overall, the sky appeared to be angry, with heavy laden clouds.
3. What was the Duke’s state of mind as he stood at the door of the tavern?
Answer: The Duke stood motionless at the door of the tavern with his gun on his shoulder belt. He felt sorry for the poor defeated soldier. He was sombre and sad.
4. What thoughts crossed the Duke’s mind while having the hard bread?
Answer: The Duke remembered the previous breakfast while eating the hard bread. When he sat by the window on the ground floor of the Café Anglais and was served with cutlet or buttered eggs with asparagus tips, he referred to it as a ‘hygienic’ breakfast. That was a very good time for him.
5. What happened when the Duke threw away the rest of his bread into the mud?
Answer: When the Duke threw the rest of the bread into the mud thinking it to be bitter, a very weak looking soldier came from the line and picked up the bread, wiped it clean with his sleeves and devoured it eagerly. This made the Duke feel ashamed of his action.
6. Describe the appearance of the hungry soldier.
Answer: The Hungry soldier was a tall large young fellow, but badly made, with feverish eyes and a hospital beard, and so thin that his shoulder blades stood out beneath his well-worn cape.
7. Why did the soldier find his dismissal ‘worse’?
Answer: The soldier found his dismissal worse because they’re in the ambulance and in the infirmary, he could eat some good food and some horse bouillon but in the army, he had to suffer again out of hunger.
8. Whom does the soldier remember fondly from his childhood days and why?
Answer: The soldier was very fond of that sister in the asylum who used to take care of him and loved him dearly. He was her favourite. She used to draw him to her side and lay warm hands on his head. That was his only happy memory from his childhood days.
9. Why did Jean-Victor decide to take the Duke’s duty?
Answer: Jean-Victor decided to take the duty of Duke because the Duke was sleeping soundly and couldn’t hear his name being called. Moreover, he was moved by the kindness shown by the young Duke to him by giving him a ration of bread. He was so moved by the Duke’s kindness that he volunteered himself in place of the Duke.
10. What end did Jean-Victor meet with?
Answer: Jean-Victor, who volunteered to accompany the Duke to the outcast, met a tragic end. Having been shot through the head, he died without saying a word.
11. Why do you think the Duke’s voice ‘trembled slightly’ while talking to Monsieur de Saulnes
Answer: The Duke’s voice trembled slightly while talking to Monsieur de Saulnes because he was very much grieved at the death of his Comrade Jean Victor who had given his life for him when could de Saulnes laughed at the act of the Duke, he was offended and in a trembling voice asked not to laugh as it is a sign of respect through his dead friend.
B. Think and answer
1. What do you think of the Duke? Write his character sketch expressing your views.
Answer: Duke De Hardimont was young, rich and a patriot. He was passionate about his country and it is evident from the fact that on hearing that France was losing battles he was filled with anger and enlisted himself in the army.
We can also see that he was a man who took things for granted and was a little spoiled person. His action of throwing the piece of bread just because it tasted bitter and did not meet the standard of his usual kind of food proved his lack of empathy and betrayed his short-sightedness. However, he was also a kind person. When Jean-Victor picked up the bread and started eating it, he felt ashamed of his action and invited him to share some cognac and his ration of bread.
Despite being a Duke he was very humble and he treated Jean-Victor as a friend and as his equal.
2. What kind of a person was Jean-Victor? What does his act of volunteering in place of the Duke tell you about him?
Answer: Jean-Victor was a man of courage and valour who was raised in an orphanage and his only good memories in life were his days at the orphanage. The only time someone showed him kindness was the kind sister who took care of him and taught him to be honest.
From an early age, Jean Victor’s life was a continuous struggle for survival but he displayed a courageous and hard-working nature. . He began working at a chain vendor’s shop when he was 12 years old, but the pay was insufficient for him to survive. After that, he started doing jobs like a mason, shop boy, floor polisher and at eighteen he joined the army. Though he was hungry all the time, his strong quality of honesty always prevented him from stealing. Despite all the hunger and suffering Jean-Victor had to bear he was a friendly, frank and kind person.
When he first met the Duke he was quite touched by the Duke’s generosity. In the end, Jean Victor showed his selfless nature and loyalty to the Duke whom he regarded as a friend. His sense of friendship made him volunteer in the place of the Duke and eventually sacrificed his life.
3. ‘A Piece of Bread’ is the story of the bond between a Duke and a soldier. Justify the title.
Answer: ‘A Piece of Bread’ is a story that conveys a simple message of value, friendship and loyalty. It is the piece of bread that plays a vital role in the development of a bond between the two main characters of the story. It demonstrates the contrasting situation of the two characters.
On one hand, Duke de Hardimont lived a rich and luxurious life and on the other hand, Jean-Victor lived a life of misery, wretchedness, yet the piece of bread brought them together.
The bond of friendship that developed over a piece of bread was so strong that we can see Jean-Victor sacrificing his life for Duke de Hardimont. The Duke took things for granted and had thrown the bitter and hard bread but he felt ashamed of his action when he saw someone picking it up and devouring it. Jean-Victor after narrating his life of misery was quite touched by the Duke’s kindness who offered him some cognac and also his ration of bread.
Though these two people had come from different circumstances, a piece of bread made them come together as friends and the bread and the friendship remained imprinted in the Duke’s heart forever. It is clear from the fact that, at the end of the story, the Duke picked up a loaf of bread that had rolled before him, carefully wiped it with his handkerchief embroidered with his armorial bearings, and placed it on a bench in full view under the gaslight in memory of his friend, Jean-Victor, who died instead of him. As a result, the story’s title is justified.
Ron’e Dutta is the Co-Founder and Editor of Online Free Notes. He is a journalist, a blogger, a creative writer, and a teacher. He is currently writing his first thriller novel on time-travelling. Read the prologue of the novel here. Connect with him on social media.