The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

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The Tale of Despereaux: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Despereaux wakes up in a big, calloused human hand, staring at a big human eye that reflects the light of a single match. The voice—Gregory—says that Despereaux is a mouse with red thread, and he knows what that means. He points to his own “thread” as he lights a candle, and he explain that his rope saves him. Despereaux’s rope, on the other hand, will bring about Despereaux’s death. Gregory blows the candle out and grabs Despereaux even tighter. In a whisper, Despereaux asks who Gregory is. Gregory says he’s the jailer—he’s been keeping watch over this dungeon for forever. And ironically, he’s also a prisoner.
Though he’s a human, Gregory seems well aware that a mouse with red thread around its neck means the mouse will die. But thread (whether that’s actual sewing thread or a rope) can serve many purposes: as Gregory explains, his rope keeps him from getting lost. By sharing this, he encourages Despereaux to expand his perspective and, in doing so, helps Despereaux start to come of age.
Themes
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Despereaux asks if he might get down. Gregory says that Despereaux doesn’t want to get down. This dungeon is “the treacherous heart of the world,” and only Gregory and the rats know how to navigate this place. The rats know how to get around because the dungeon mirrors their “dark hearts”; Gregory navigates thanks to the rope tied to his ankle. Gregory warns Despereaux that the rats are already coming for him; if Despereaux listens, he can hear their tails dragging and their sharp nails and teeth getting sharper. After a moment, Despereaux can indeed hear these things. Gregory explains that the rats will eat everything but the red thread and Despereaux’s bones.
Referring to the dungeon as “the treacherous heart of the world” is an interesting turn of phrase, as it suggests that the proverbial heart of the world is a dark and evil one—much like the rats’ hearts. Evil, this implies, is the natural state of being, rather than goodness. But Gregory also suggests that this doesn’t mean goodness can’t still prevail. He, after all, is keeping Despereaux safe at the moment, an arguably good thing—Despereaux won’t be eaten by the rats, it seems, unless Gregory puts him down.
Themes
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Despereaux protests that he can’t die—he must live. Gregory deems that a lovely sentiment and asks why Despereaux can’t die. Despereaux explains that he’s in love and must serve his love. At this, Gregory lights a match. The light illuminates a towering pile of spoons, kettles, and soup bowls—a “monument to the foolishness of love.” Despereaux doesn’t understand, so Gregory says this is evidence of how painful it is to love: the king loved the queen and she died, and this pile of stuff is the result. Gregory says Despereaux will only understand when he loses what he loves.
At this point, the pile of spoons, bowls, and kettles is just as confusing to readers as it is to Despereaux. But this odd detail suggests that love isn’t always easy or logical, since the connection between the king’s love for the queen and this pile of stuff isn’t obvious. Gregory may be trying to tell Despereaux that even Despereaux’s love for the Pea might not be as simple as Despereaux thinks.
Themes
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gregory says that instead of love, they should talk about Despereaux’s life, and how Gregory might save it. Despereaux asks how Gregory could save him, and if Gregory has saved other mice. Gregory explains that he hasn’t saved other mice, but he’ll save Despereaux because Despereaux can tell him a story. Stories, Gregory says, are light. So Despereaux, desperate to live, starts his story again. This is how he becomes the only mouse sent to the dungeon whom the rats don’t destroy instantly. The narrator says that for now, we’ll leave Despereaux here with Gregory. It’s time to talk about rats.
Despereaux had already started to understand what Gregory says here when he said “once upon a time” on the dungeon stairs and felt braver as a result. Stories, this suggests, can give people hope and show them what’s possible—especially what good things are possible. Note, too, that Despereaux isn’t like the other mice who have been banished to the dungeon. While he was banished in the first place because he didn’t fit in with the other mice, here, the fact that he doesn’t conform saves him.
Themes
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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