Guy de Maupassant is one of the most prominent writers who enriched French literature with a plethora of brilliant short stories. One of his most famous short stories is built around the main character’s distorted self-identity. This essay will provide a brief summary of The Necklace that will cover the main facts presented in the story and explain how the lack of identity and pride proved detrimental to the heroine’s life.
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Born into a poor family, Mathilde Loisel has always had a distaste for her humble circumstances. The woman prides herself on her appearance, and she is well aware that if she had an opportunity to dress and groom herself differently, her beauty would genuinely shine. Her new social image would likely get her a wealthy husband, and together, they would live in luxury. Unfortunately, Mathilde’s dreams have never come true, and despite not being exactly impoverished, her family cannot afford finer things in life.
One day, Mathilde’s husband breaks the news that they are invited to a soiree organized by the Minister of Education. To look appropriate at such a social outing, the woman spends a ransom of money on a new outfit and asks a rich friend to let her wear her diamond necklace. Mathilde enjoys herself at the event, but after she arrives home, she discovers that she has lost the necklace. She lies to her friend that she broke the clasp on it to win some time. Eventually, the family has to buy a new piece, and they are paying off the debt for ten years. In the end, Mathilde meets her friend in the street and learns that the necklace that she borrowed was fake and did not cost even a tenth of what she had to pay.
In The Necklace, Guy de Maupassant shows his artistry through the use of various literary devices. At the beginning of the story, the narration relies heavily on imagery. Maupassant contrasts the harsh reality of Mathilde’s life with its “dirty walls” and “worn-out chairs” to her dreams in which she enjoys “silent antechambers” and “Oriental tapestries (Maupassant, 2016, p. 60).” These little details of her surroundings may be nothing too bad, but compared to the lush interiors that Mathilde likes to imagine, they appear truly depressing.
The author uses characterization throughout the story as he lets the main character’s personality unfold. Right from the start, the reader notices that Mathilde is outstandingly proud as she tries to detach herself from her social class (Kuhn, 2016). This trait is emphasized further when the woman cries when she has nothing to wear, spends a lot of money to look elegant for one evening, and works relentlessly to pay off the debt. Lastly, Maupassant masterfully shows the conflict between Mathilde’s pride and humility. It is possible that her friend would understand her situation, and together, the women would find a solution. However, it proves easier for Mathilde to sacrifice what she had than to lose her face.
Maupassant on Pride and the Human Nature
Through Mathilde’s character, Maupassant makes several points about the sad reality of 19th century France, where social ascension was nigh on impossible (Smriti & Sinha, 2018). The woman is unable to gain the status of her dreams, which makes her extremely unhappy. At the beginning of the story, the reader sees the world through the lens of her personality and is likely to sympathize with her. However, the writer demonstrates that Mathilde does not merely have a longing for a different lifestyle – she “suffers ceaselessly” and feels entitled to better things in life (Maupassant, 2016, p. 60).
She purchases a dress for 400 francs – a sum of money that she could invest in a more practical way, such as to renovate her house. Yet, for Mathilde, her appearance and upholding the facade of well-being are the things that matter the most. The character’s beauty is skin deep, and there is no substance behind it. Her pride becomes the flaw that leads to her fall from grace. Maupassant shows people tend not to value what they already have. Such negligence may lead to a huge loss and, subsequently, a life full of misery.
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Believability and Impressions
The Necklace struck me as a believable story as the events described by Maupassant could easily take place back in his day. In general, Maupassant is praised for his realistic approach to literature and embarking on such difficult topics as the struggle of social classes and flaws of human nature (Kuhn, 2016). At first, I felt sorry for the main character, but after the second reading, I realized that “The Necklace” is more profound than a simple sob story. For myself, I concluded that while all people are somewhat limited by their circumstances, they still have freedom of choice. Mathilde could change her attitude and appreciate her family more. Also, she could swallow her pride and confess to her friend right after she lost the necklace.
Maupassant’s works cover a panorama of French life at the end of the nineteenth century and convey the zeitgeist with incredible precision. Maupassant often depicts the struggle of social classes in the rigid and conservative society. The Necklace is not an exception as the main character, Mathilde Loisel, feels a disconnect between her actual and her dream lives. Trying to blend in with aristocrats at a soiree, she wears and eventually loses a diamond necklace, which puts her in debt. By using imagery, characterization, and conflict, Maupassant shows Mathilde’s downfall and ponders the flawed human nature.
Kuhn, G. (2016). Exploring French short stories: Guy de Maupassant’s writing style and social justice. Web.
Maupassant, Guy de. (2016). The Necklace and other short stories. Irvine, CA: Xist Publishing.
Smriti, R., & Sinha, A. (2018). Struggle of social classes in Maupassant’s select short stories. Paragon International Publishers, 6, 114-119.