The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

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The Tale of Despereaux: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator steps backward in time several years to the day that a rat named Chiaroscuro, nicknamed Roscuro, is born in the dark dungeon. Despereaux will be born upstairs in the light in a few years. Chiaroscuro, the narrator explains, refers to how lights and darks are arranged together in art. Rats, however, don’t like light—Roscuro’s parents were being funny when they named him. Rats generally have a good sense of humor and think life is funny (and they’re right). But in Roscuro’s case, his name is a bit prophetic.
Immediately upon introducing Chiaroscuro, the narrator sets Roscuro up as Despereaux’s opposite. He’s born in the dark dungeon and is therefore associated with evil, unlike Despereaux, who was born upstairs and is the epitome of good. However, the narrator immediately complicates this by explaining the meaning of Roscuro’s name. Essentially, he has both light and dark elements within him—despite his wholly dark outward appearance.
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Related Quotes
One day, Roscuro discovers a length of rope on the dungeon floor and begins to nibble it. A booming voice tells Roscuro to stop, and a huge hand reaches out to pick Roscuro up by the tail. Gregory asks who is chewing on his rope. Roscuro refuses to answer, so Gregory says he’ll teach Roscuro a lesson. He lights a match and holds it up to Roscuro’s face, and though Roscuro pulls away, the bright flame seems to explode inside him and dance. Gregory says it’s the rule that rats can’t chew on his rope, and he asks Roscuro to apologize. Roscuro refuses, so Gregory moves the match close to Roscuro’s face—so close that he burns off some of Roscuro’s whiskers. He then flings the rat away and says that Roscuro will be sorry if he chews on the rope again.
Gregory and the rats seem to have a tenuous and almost adversarial relationship, given this interaction between Gregory and Roscuro. The implication here is that Gregory intends to terrify or offend Roscuro by lighting the match in his face—recall that rats like the dark. But instead, just as Despereaux’s soul grows and lights up when he hears music, Roscuro’s soul transforms when he sees light for the first time. But when the light burns off his whiskers, it also suggests that life as a light-loving rat might be dangerous for Roscuro.
Themes
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As Roscuro sits and calms his beating heart, he can still see the flame dancing before his eyes and he repeats one word to himself: light. After this, Roscuro becomes abnormally interested in light. He longs for light deep in his soul, and he starts to think it’s what gives life its meaning. But when Roscuro tells his elderly rat friend Botticelli Remorso this, Botticelli says the meaning of life is suffering. He insists that making prisoners cry and wail gives life meaning. As he speaks, Botticelli begins to swing a heart-shaped locket (which he stole from a prisoner) back and forth on its string.
Like Despereaux, young Roscuro doesn’t initially see any need to hide that he’s interested in things that are unusual for rats to like. And just like in Despereaux’s case, an older mentor steps in to try to steer their young mentee toward what’s considered an acceptable path, and toward acceptable interests. That Botticelli swings a heart-shaped locket—a common symbol for love—suggests that he and the rats seek to corrupt things that are good and fulfilling, like love. 
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Roscuro follows the swinging locket back and forth as Botticelli details how to torture a prisoner. First, a rat must befriend the prisoner, then get the prisoner to confess their sins. They promise a prisoner friendship and forgiveness, and it’s a great joke, since the rat will grant neither. Botticelli starts laughing so hard that he has to sit down. He says at this point, the rat turns back into what it’s always been: a rat. Then, the rat should run across the prisoner’s feet to terrify them. It’s a lovely game.
Botticelli makes it clear that rats are cruel, evil creatures who are willing to betray people’s trust in order to torture them. He also implies that rats can’t be anything more than cruel and evil when he says rats turn back into what they’ve always been—rats—at the moment they reveal that they’re manipulating prisoners.
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Roscuro says he’d like to make someone suffer, and Botticelli says that when a new prisoner arrives, Roscuro will have his own prisoner. Then he’ll be a real rat who isn’t concerned with the light. Still swinging the locket, Botticelli tells Roscuro that he’ll be a real, evil rat who can cause suffering. It’s such a lovely world.
Unlike Despereaux, Roscuro is willing to let his mentor sway him and try to change him. But the implication is still that Botticelli hasn’t actually changed Roscuro’s mind; he’s just convinced Roscuro to try out the rat equivalent of nibbling paper or scurrying (in this case, torturing a prisoner).
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