The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

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The Tale of Despereaux: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Despereaux checks the throne room first and then, on his way to the Pea’s room, he comes upon the Mouse Council deep in conversation. He stops and the Most Very Honored Head Mouse sees him. The Head Mouse says Despereaux’s name and then shakily points and says it’s a ghost. Due to the flour, Despereaux is white now, but the thread around his neck is red like blood.
The description of Despereaux certainly paints a chilling picture. However, that the Head Mouse immediately jumps to thinking Despereaux is a ghost speaks to how fully this mouse believes that condemned mice don’t emerge from the dungeon alive. He believes Despereaux must be dead, so he’s unwilling to consider that he’s looking at flesh-and-blood Despereaux, just covered in flour.
Themes
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Conformity Theme Icon
Lester seems to have aged years since Despereaux went to the dungeon, though it’s only been a few days. He calls for the ghost of his son, and he says that it was wrong to send Despereaux to his death. As the Head Mouse protests, Lester says he destroyed the Mouse Council drum and asks for forgiveness. Despereaux stares at his father, who looks small and sad, and it feels like Despereaux’s heart is breaking.
As the narrator describes Despereaux’s breaking heart, the novel shows that Lester’s betrayal hurts both him and his son. This isn’t just because Despereaux could’ve died—it’s also because now, Despereaux doesn’t trust his father, and it’s painful to see Lester in such a sad, penitent state.
Themes
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
The narrator notes that forgiveness is like hope and love, in that it’s powerful and great but also ridiculous. How could anyone think that a son could forgive his father for sending him to his death? But Despereaux tells Lester that he forgives him. He does this because he realizes that this is the only way to keep his own heart from breaking—it helps Despereaux save himself. Then, Despereaux tells the whole Mouse Council that they were wrong. Now, they must renounce their misdeeds and repent. The Head Mouse refuses.
The narrator encourages readers to understand again that just because something is ridiculous doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. They also propose the idea that on the whole, forgiveness isn’t something a person grants just to make the person being forgiven feel better. Instead, it’s beneficial for both parties. In Despereaux’s case, forgiving his father (rather than holding a grudge and, perhaps, ending up like Roscuro), allows Despereaux to remain a good character, the novel’s hero, and someone who can help others (like the Mouse Council) become better.
Themes
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Despereaux realizes he’s a different mouse than he was the last time he stood in front of the Mouse Council. He knows things that they’ll never know—and what they think of him doesn’t matter. So, Despereaux leaves the room. The Head Mouse shakily says that a ghost has visited them, and he holds a vote to decide that this event never happened. Everyone says “aye,” except for Lester. Lester looks away and cries because Despereaux forgave him.
Despereaux finds he has even more courage now to stand up for what he believes is good and right. These older mice, he realizes, are sheltered and live in a world that’s black and white. Despereaux, on the other hand—and now, perhaps, Lester too—lives in a world that’s far more nuanced. In Despereaux’s world, standing up for one’s beliefs is more important than following rules that exist due to fear and prejudice.
Themes
Principles, Courage, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Conformity Theme Icon
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