The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

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

The Tale of Despereaux: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Furlough tries to teach Despereaux “the art of scurrying.” He demonstrates how a mouse should move side to side, always checking over his shoulder. But Despereaux isn’t listening: he’s staring at the light coming through the stained glass windows. He asks Furlough if they’re in heaven, but Furlough shouts for his brother to move—they’re mice, not men, and they must scurry. Despereaux continues to stare at the light while Furlough disappears into a hole.
Attempting to educate Despereaux is really an attempt to get Despereaux to fit in with the other mice. But already, Furlough starts to suggest that Despereaux fits in more with humans than with mice—it’s a human concern, Furlough suggests, to be interested in the light and in heaven. Despereaux’s interest in beauty and light, however, also continues to associate him with goodness.
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Next, Merlot takes Despereaux into the castle library. Light streams in through the tall windows, but Merlot ignores it. She invites Despereaux to come learn how to nibble paper and leads him onto a table with a big book on it. Despereaux dutifully follows his sister and listens as she describes how tasty the glue and the paper are. She nibbles a bit and then asks him to try the “squiggles,” which are delicious. But as Despereaux turns to the squiggles, they become words: “Once upon a time.” Despereaux reads the words aloud, confusing Merlot. She tells him to eat, but Despereaux says he can’t—it would ruin the story.
Merlot is continuing Furlough’s monumental task of trying to make Despereaux into a good, proper mouse. However, Merlot unwittingly introduces Despereaux to reading and stories—something she seems to have no concept of herself. Referring to the text in the book as “squiggles” makes it clear that she can’t read the words; they have no meaning for her beyond tasting different than the rest of the paper.
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Merlot is shocked and confused. She says their father is right, and Despereaux isn’t well. Once she scurries angrily away, Despereaux reaches out and touches the words in the book. He then reads the story about a beautiful princess and a knight who “serves and honors her.” At this point, Despereaux doesn’t know that he’ll need to be brave soon, as below the castle there’s a dungeon filled with big, mean rats. Despereaux is going to meet them, as anyone who doesn’t conform—mouse or man—is destined to meet an “interesting fate.”
Merlot’s implication is that Despereaux is mentally unwell—because she sees the text as “squiggles,” it seems like Despereaux is just making stuff up and talking to an inanimate object. But Despereaux is actually learning more about the world around him, and he’s also learning to become more sympathetic to humans (the characters in the story he’s reading are, presumably, people). The narrator clues readers into the fact that all of this sets Despereaux apart from his fellow mice, and that his un-mouse-like interests will have frightening consequences.
Themes
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
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