Several types of irony were added in Maupassant’s story “The Necklace”. Each type performs its own function, but their complex application provides the greatest comedic effect. However, the irony in the story is used not only for comedic reasons. Maupassant applies this technique to show the main ideas of the story to readers. Indeed, how exactly the author uses irony might tell the audience about his attitude towards the heroes of the story. In addition, without the analyzed satirical technique, the plot of the story would have been much less unpredictable, while the goal of Maupassant was precisely to create such element of surprise. Thus, through the complex use of several varieties of irony Maupassant to achieve a comical effect, create an interesting plot solution and highlight the work’s concept.
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The Types of Irony Found in The Necklace
There are four types of irony found in the text and essential for the current analysis. In the modern theory of literary criticism, more kinds of irony are known, but in the context of this study, it seems rational to dwell on these types only. These four varieties of irony found in the text thus include dramatic irony, situational irony, verbal irony, and structural irony.
The point of the first kind of irony is dramatic irony; it happens when the readers know more than the heroes do. According to Milanowicz, “irony requires senders and recipients to be engaged” (16). Therefore, irony helps to convey information between the author and the reader. In the story “The Necklace”, it goes like this: the story of Mathilde is told from the perspective of an abstract narrator. The author chooses this type of narration on purpose, showing that Mathilde is unaware of how wrong she is in her beliefs. Despite the fact that “she had neither frocks not jewels” (Maupassant, 2012, p. 32), Mathilde is convinced that those things would bring her true happiness. She strives to be what she will never become, forgetting that one can be happy without insanely expensive jewelry and luxurious balls.
It can be assumed that the idea of the author here is that, in his opinion, those who cannot appreciate what they have should be punished. Indeed, according to the plot of the story, the punishment reaches the woman after she fulfills her philistine dream. If the reader will able to pay attention to this, then it could be considered that the use of irony helped the author to be correctly understood.
The use of situational irony keeps the reader interested and elicits a serious emotional response that influences on how much the author’s idea will be imbued. In Maupassant’s “The Necklace», the use of such a technique turns the reader’s perception of what happened in the story upside down. Parvathi (2020) describes the process in this way – “the author sets up a scene one way, and then the opposite of what you might expect actually happens”.
The main heroine of “The Necklace”, Mathilde, spent ten years of her life repaying a debt for the necklace that turned out to be a fake. Such a dramatic change in the situation makes readers feel compassion for her. Although, the reader’s expectations are not met, he or she experiences an emotional catharsis that leads him or her to the renewal of perception. In many ways, this is exactly the result the author of the story wants to achieve. The reader then realizes that Maupassant is ironic about the situation in which Mathilde finds herself. The reader is not surprised by this position of the author, because now they are on the same page with the author. To sum up, the analyzed satirist technique not only helps the development of the plot, but also establishes a connection between the author and the reader.
The verbal irony in “The Necklace” demonstrates the contrast between what the characters say and what they really mean, which helps to get to know them better. Mathilde says that she will not go to the ball, since she does not have a suitable dress, while the reader is aware of how much she dreamed of such an offer all this time. The narrator notes how often the heroine thought about “large drawing rooms”, “graceful pieces of furniture” and other things that are associated with luxury lifestyle (Maupassant, 2012, p. 31). At this point, the reader discovers new character traits of the woman – her pride and integrity. She cannot imagine herself looking non-elegant at a lavish event; she is too dependent on the opinions of people of a higher social status than hers.
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Verbal irony appears in the text when it is necessary to create a comic effect and indicate what is valuable to the characters. At the same time, Mathide’s husband admires the “good potpie” saying he “knows nothing better than that” (Maupassant, 2021, 32). This pie could never be compared with the delicious dishes served at the ball, and Mathilde’s husband himself understands this. However, adding such a line to the narrative creates a comedic effect, given the modest everyday life of the heroes’ home and by no means the modest ambitions of Mathilde. The ironically used phrases of the characters, hence, help the reader to trace what values are the most important for heroes, and how respectful they are to each other.
In “The Necklace”, Maupassant also uses the technique of structural irony. The point of the technique is to mislead readers about the true state of affairs. When talking about irony, Muecke (2017) eloquently names it “double natured quasi-mythological beast” (12), which fully conveys the meaning of the term. Irony creates a sense of duality of what is happening. The reader feels that he cannot from now on be sure that what he perceives as real actually exists.
For example, the reader is overwhelmed by the fact that Mathilde and her husband have to work tirelessly for about ten years to pay off debts, but he or she knows that this happens because the lost necklace was incredibly expensive. However, the reader does not understand that the work of the heroes was a wasted effort; the fact that the necklace is a fake is told to him or her in the last lines of the story. Having learned about the new circumstances, presented in an ironic form, he or she can no longer perceive the heroes of the story and the story itself as before. This dualism of perception, largely, is the unique feature of irony used in the story.
The analysis of the use of irony in the story make it possible to draw a number of conclusions. It should be noted that it is the complex use of several types of irony that makes it possible to fully implement the author’s idea. Through dramatic irony, a relationship is created between the author and the potential reader, which provides a more complete understanding of the work’s idea. Situational irony provokes the reader to empathize with the characters, which becomes possible thanks to the unexpected plot twist. Verbal irony reveals the personal qualities of the characters and it is important for understanding the main idea of “The Necklace”. Situational irony surprises the reader, he re-engages in the reading process and finally pays attention to important details scattered throughout the text. Therefore, each type of irony performs its own function, but the inclusion of several types of irony in the text at once ensures a complete and accurate perception of the text.
Maupassant, G. (2012). The Necklace and Other Short Stories. Dover Publications.
Milanowicz, A. (2019). A short etude on irony in storytelling. Psychology of Language and Communication, 23(1), 14-26. https://doi.org/10.2478/plc-2019-0002
Muecke, D.C. (2017). Irony and the ironic. Taylor and Francis. Parvathi, V. (2020). Irony and coincidence in the selected stories of O’ Henry. Journal for Research Scholars and Professionals of English Language Teaching, 4(19). https://ssrn.com/abstract=3630145