It is set in rural Lithuania. The plot revolves around a young man who is suspected to be half-human half-bear, since he was born after his mother was mauled (and, as believed by peasants, raped) by a bear. The title is a misspelling of Lithuanian lokys for "bear". As such, the plot may be classified into a werewolf theme. Through the novel, the protagonist, Michel/Lokis, manifests signs of animal-like behavior until he finally kills his bride by a bite to her throat and runs away into the forest on his wedding night. Some critics consider the tale to be an inversion of the Beauty and the Beast story, whereby the Beauty transforms a man into a Beast, rather than vice versa.
^A Lithuanian proverb cited at the beginning of the novel. It almost literally means "A grizzly and a bear are one and the same beast." The proverb was devised by Mérimée himself. "Miška" is not a Lithuanian word but Russian, a hypocoristic form of "Michael", the protagonist's name.