The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux


Kate DiCamillo

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Tale of Despereaux can help.

The Tale of Despereaux: Chapter 1  Summary & Analysis

This story begins in a castle when a small mouse is born. He’s his parents’ last baby, and he’s the only one in the litter who’s born alive. When the father mouse tells the mother the sad news, the mother laments that she did so much work for nothing—this is such a disappointment. She’s French, and “disappointment” is one of her favorite words. The mother, Antoinette, sighs that she’ll name the baby Despereaux, though she’s certain he’ll die like the others in the litter. She then asks for her mirror.
The circumstances surrounding Despereaux’s birth are sad—but the way that Antoinette talks about it is absurd to the point of humor. She reads as selfish and vain, and as though her children don’t matter much to her. She frames them as burdens more than anything else. That she clearly doesn’t believe in her son’s ability to live, let alone thrive, positions Despereaux as an unlikely hero.
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One of Antoinette’s sons fetches his mother’s makeup bag while the father puts Despereaux down on a makeshift bed. The older mouse children gather around their new brother. Merlot, a sister, says his ears are too big, and a brother named Furlough says that Despereaux’s eyes are open when they shouldn’t be. This, the narrator says, is true: Despereaux’s eyes shouldn’t be open, but he is staring at the sun reflecting off his mother’s mirror onto the ceiling. The father tells the children to leave Despereaux alone as Antoinette announces that she won’t have any more babies. Babies are just disappointing and ruin her beauty. The father sighs that Despereaux will be dead soon, but the narrator assures readers that Despereaux will live. “This is his story.”
From the beginning, Despereaux doesn’t fit in. His body isn’t what a mouse’s body should be, and he’s oddly interested in the light reflected on the ceiling. This aligns Despereaux with light, something that symbolizes goodness, beauty, and love throughout the novel. The omniscient narrator helps readers understand that they shouldn’t take Despereaux’s parents seriously when they speak ill of him, or suggest he’ll die. Readers can, and should, root for this tiny mouse who, from birth, doesn’t fit in.
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