The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

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The Tale of Despereaux: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The queen loves soup more than anything, aside from the Princess Pea and King Phillip. For this reason, Cook serves soup at every meal and goes to great lengths to craft soups that are art. On this day, the soup is particularly amazing. Roscuro takes a few sips as he comes to the surface of the queen’s soup bowl, and even he thinks it’s lovely. The Pea, though, shouts again that the rat is now in her mother’s soup. Everyone stops what they’re doing and stares at Roscuro. The narrator has to be honest at this point: rats aren’t beautiful or cute. They’re nasty, especially if they’re in one’s soup bowl.
Soup represents comfort, community, and love. Finding a rat in her soup—a being the novel associates with darkness and evil—essentially poisons the soup and deprives it of its healing and restorative qualities. But even so, Roscuro finds the soup tasty. He’s not immune to the power of soup when he eats it himself, but he does cause soup to seem unappetizing when he’s swimming in the queen’s soup.
Themes
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
After a long silence, Roscuro says, “I beg your pardon” to the queen. The queen flings her spoon, lets loose a horrible scream, and then observes aloud that there’s a rat in her soup. These are her last words—she falls over backwards, dead. The king’s men all try to save the queen as Roscuro, deciding it’s best to leave, starts to crawl away. But he remembers the prisoner’s regret that he didn’t look back at his daughter, so Roscuro looks back. He sees the Princess Pea glaring at him with a look that tells him to go back to the dark dungeon, where he belongs. This look breaks Roscuro’s heart—yes, even rats have hearts, like all other living things. Perhaps if Roscuro hadn’t looked over his shoulder, his heart would not have broken, and we wouldn’t be hearing this story.
The queen’s death is both tragic and absurd, and Roscuro recognizes it as such. The fact that Roscuro’s surprise appearance kills the queen reinforces rats’ association with evil and suffering. However, this doesn’t mean that rats are all-powerful and can make others suffer willy-nilly; that the Pea can break Roscuro’s heart shows that in this instance, she has more power than he does. The narrator also encourages readers to realize that in order for this story to be interesting, bad and sad things have to happen—the story needs a conflict, or it’d be boring and simply not worth telling.
Themes
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
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