Cléophas’ Fiddle

In Chopin’s short story about a young girl who sells her caretaker’s fiddle, readers find a hint of irony in her inability to correctly assess the worth of the old fiddle. To her youthful gaze, the fiddle appears worthless; it is old, kept in a flannel bag, and does nothing to provide sustenance for herself or the other young ones. In an attempt to correct this situation, Fifine sells the fiddle and in return receives a much newer, glossier fiddle and more money than she can count. The irony occurs when readers realize that the new fiddle couldn’t come close to the worth of the old one. When Cléophas mentions the fiddle’s maker, an Italian man who died before the war (most likely one of the world wars) readers have an intimation that perhaps this fiddle is a priceless relic, one of the few remaining masterpieces built by Italian violin makers such as Stradivarius. In light of this, the old fiddle becomes irreplaceable, and, in this context, is not an object to be bought or sold for a few days worth of food. However, Fifine’s youthful understanding of value and worth do not take such a likelihood into account, and because she is more focused on her immediate needs and desires, she sells the fiddle with little forethought or questioning. Furthermore, readers can assume that Cléophas’ assessment of the fiddle’s worth went much deeper than its material value or physical rarity; for him, the instrument clearly has sentimental value, perhaps even a legacy to which he is connected by ownership. Readers can sense this when, upon learning that the old fiddle has been sold, he is so disheartened that he no longer has the desire to play music.

2 Responses to “Cléophas’ Fiddle”

  1. Kim Sasser says:

    Top notch unpacking of this dialect-dense short story. Your post illuminates significant details about characterization and theme. (I will draw from it as a resource next time I teach the story!)

  2. Ashley Smith says:

    I think the fiddle’s worth and the girls innability to distinguish that worth is very ironic. I think the story would be much different if the girl did not have that innocent understand of value and the need for immediacy. I love your reference to Stadivarius.

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