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In late 18th-century France in the district of Aveyron, villagers capture a young boy who has been seen living wild in nearby woods. A farmer houses the boy in his barn until Dr. Jean Itard, who has read of the case in the local papers, takes the boy to the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris. There, the boy becomes a freak attraction for wealthy Parisians and a source of taunting for the other boys housed at the Institute. Itard and a colleague, Professor Pinel, examine the boy and estimate his age to be about 12; in addition, they find his body covered with small scars and one long scar across his throat, which they surmise was a result of his parents slitting his throat before abandoning him. Pinel believes the boy is a deafmute idiot, but Itard dissuades him from sending the boy to an asylum and instead takes the boy to his own country home. Placing the child under the care of his housekeeper, Madame Guérin, Itard names him Victor and proceeds with his plan to educate and civilize the boy. Carefully documenting Victor's progress, Itard tries to teach him to speak but meets with limited success. Victor develops an emotional attachment to both Madame Guérin and Itard and learns to associate some words with objects, but his powers of speech seem genuinely blocked. To test the boy's moral sense, Itard deliberately inflicts an unjust punishment on Victor, and when the boy responds with a fit of tears, Itard concludes that the experiment is a success. Shortly thereafter, Victor runs away to the woods, but after a night spent outdoors, he returns to Itard, who receives him with optimism for the boy's future.