It is a good idea to compare and contrast Maupassant’s The Necklace and Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing, because of the way the authors examined the subject of poverty. They share the same interest as manifested in their desire to explore the meaning of poverty in the lives of young women. Nevertheless, they differ in their interpretation with regard to the real meaning of poverty. Maupassant sees poverty as a mindset. On the other hand, Olsen sees poverty as a merciless force that grinds its victims to dust. Although Maupassant and Olsen differ in their approach, they saw poverty’s impact on the lives of charming and beautiful young women.
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As a result, they illustrate the effects of poverty and describe it as a reverse metamorphosis. In their stories, the protagonists begin a life full of hope, but it ends with regrets and frustrations. After analyzing Maupassant and Olsen’s short stories, I made the decision to praise Maupassant’s work, because the tragic ending serves as a powerful reminder to the readers that vanity is as dangerous as any vice. At the same time, the story inspires readers to overcome poverty with diligence and hard work.
In Olsen’s story, the unnamed narrator pushes the iron back and forth. There is a relentless determination to her action. The hot implement moves back and forth, and it mimics the action of poverty in her life (Olsen, 2010). As the iron erases the wrinkles in Emily’s dress, it mimics the action of poverty as it obliterates the hapless resistance to its persistent attack. The young mother’s helplessness reveals itself when she confesses to the other person on the other end of the conversation.
She blames her husband for her problems. There is a hint of sarcasm in her voice when she discloses her husband’s line of reasoning. The man of the house has to leave them because he does not have the strength to carry the burden of raising a family. It is impossible to appreciate her husband’s logic if one considers the timing of his exit. His exit strategy is in play right after the birth of his fifth child. She describes the agony and the helplessness of her circumstances. Standing in front of the ironing board, her stance speaks volumes about her struggles. Her body is not mobile, as if an invisible force prevents her from moving to the place she wants to go (Orr, 1987).
Mathilde’s problems are different from the unnamed narrator. Mathilde thinks that she deserves a better life (Maupassant, 2015). She believes with all her heart that she is poor. She believes with all her soul that she is as poor as a rat. Her poverty manifests itself in her speech and demeanor. Without a clear grasp of all pertinent information, it is easy to equate Mathilde’s problems with the struggles of the unnamed narrator. However, it is a mistake to say that they share the same problems. Mathilde suffers from a poverty mindset because she lives a relatively comfortable life compared to the unnamed narrator (Brevik-Zender, 2015).
Mathilde is a spoiled brat. Although her family is not rich, Mathilde lives life as if she has the resources to acquire the things that she desires. She cannot seem to appreciate the importance of humility and the need to learn the value of contentment.
Her mindset is a stark contrast to that of the unnamed author. The unnamed author’s lifestyle is very different from that of Mathilde. She narrates her sad story to a social worker who calls her on the phone. She recalls the time of the Depression when she was working the night shifts so she can take care of her daughter Emily. She recalls with deep sadness the time when she needs to leave Emily with her relatives because she has to work. She describes the bitter separation between mother and daughter. Her poverty prevents her from seeing her daughter because she needs to raise a certain amount of money to pay the bus fare.
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There is a gulf of difference between these two lifestyles. Mathilde spends her waking moments daydreaming. The tortured young mother, on the other story, spends her day worrying about Emily. She spends the rest of the night, feeling guilty that she is unable to provide for all their needs. Mathilde spends the rest of the night nagging her husband about lost opportunities. She complains that she is unable to rub elbows with the rich and famous.
Maupassant and Olsen highlight poverty’s sting, especially its power to cause a reverse metamorphosis in the lives of the protagonists. In a normal metamorphosis, the ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful swan, and a hideous worm turns into a magnificent butterfly. In these twin stories, the protagonists start life as beautiful swans and magnificent butterflies. However, they become someone else.
In this reverse metamorphosis, one can find the difference in how the authors clarify the significance and true meaning of poverty. In the case of Olsen, poverty’s relentless onslaught transforms a beautiful young woman into a weak and powerless being. In Olsen’s story, the characters are unable to stop poverty’s incessant attack on the family. The unnamed narrator gambles everything she owns. She gambles her health, time, and dignity in order to secure a better future for her daughters. Nevertheless, she discovers poverty’s overwhelming power to keep them at that level.
In the case of Mathilde, poverty’s sting exists in her mind. She is not as poor as a rat. In fact, she does not have to work. Nothing in her life compels her to wash dishes or iron clothes so she can have three square meals a day or a roof over her head. Mathilde’s lifestyle is luxurious if one compares it to the lifestyle of the unnamed suffering narrator. Nevertheless, her poverty mindset drags her to the same place because she finds herself in a dilemma. She finds herself in a terrible predicament, and due to her false assumptions and beliefs, she has to work hard in order to pay for an imaginary debt.
Maupassant and Olsen share the same focus when highlighting poverty’s power to change people’s lives. However, Olsen’s story offers no solution to the impact of grinding poverty in the lives of the less fortunate. In Olsen’s story, poverty’s incessant onslaught overwhelms those in its path. Maupassant, on the other hand, offers a glimmer of hope as he suggests the mental aspect of poverty. In the case of Mathilde, poverty’s power to enslave people exists in mind alone. There is a way to defeat poverty, especially if people are willing to let go of vanity. In the end, Mathilde came to the conclusion that humility and contentment were her true friends, and their entry into her life is enough to change her state of mind.
Brevik-Zender, H. (2015). Fashioning spaces: Mode and modernity in 19th century Paris. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Web.
Maupassant, G. (2015). The necklace. Web.
Olsen, T. (2010). I stand here ironing. Web.
Orr, E. (1987). Tillie Olsen and a feminist spiritual vision. MI: University Press of Mississippi. Web.