The Necklace is one of the best-known short stories by Guy de Maupassant, the French novelettist of the second half of the 19th century. Similarly to a range of his other works, this one describes the life of the middle class along with a fate of a woman. A peculiarity of Maupassant’s style is an unexpected outcome, which is also present in the story under the review. Overall, The Necklace is among the pieces of writing that embody pessimism, emotional distress, and frustration.
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Many of Maupassant’s novellas involve completely joyless settings, and The Necklace is not an exception. Much attention is paid to the conditions the main character lives in and her attitude to them: “she was as unhappy as if she had once been wealthy” (Maupassant, 1884). The third-person narration allows a more coherent depiction of the setting than a first-person one would do since it is less emotional, hence less fragmentary. The coherence gives the reader a more complete idea of how desperate the setting is. In addition, the author uses numerous synonyms for describing emotions: “she would weep with sorrow, regret, despair and misery” (Maupassant, 1884). A literary technique of that kind adds much to the depressive impression.
The overall pessimism grows more apparent on the background of the ironic tone that is observable throughout the story. Irony is apparently among Maupassant’s favorite literary techniques, as it is used in a range of his short stories, including The Necklace. Thus, the protagonist “let herself be married to a minor official,” being unable to attract a wealthy fellow. The lack of sufficiently expensive jewelry is referred to as a “distress,” and the jewelry itself as a “treasure.” Even when telling about the hard times, the author says, “But she played her part heroically” (Maupassant, 1884). In one concern, the wordings of that kind seemingly counterbalance the pessimistic mood. At the same time, the two motifs emphasize each other due to the contrast, which gives the impression of the inevitability of despair.
The entire story revolves around the experience and feelings of the protagonist, with the primary focus on her attitude to her own misfortune. She originates, “as if by an error of fate,” from
an ordinary lower middle class family, which disappoints her, because she envies the rich and dreams of a luxurious life (Maupassant, 1884). The author does not even tell her name, Mathilde, at the beginning, presumably, in order to highlight her commonness, as a no-name person is never able to stand out. In addition, withholding a character’s name is simply a kind of the literary technique named suspense, which is mostly targeted at readers’ curiosity. Instead, Maupassant describes the actual quality of Mathilde’s life versus the quality she deliriously dreams about.
Mathilde’s husband, Monsieur Loisel, is apparently a personification of her own hopelessness. First, as it has already been mentioned, she only married him because there was hardly any better match for a girl of her class. Second, his actions throughout the story repeatedly lead to Mathilde feeling desperate. He receives an invitation to a ball, which triggers her fear of “looking poor in the middle of a lot of rich women” (Maupassant, 1884). Then, he encourages her to borrow the necklace from her wealthy friend, which she loses later. Finally, it is his decision to replace the lost jewel rather than inform its owner on the incident, resulting in ten years of extreme poverty. Monsieur Loisel seems to be the main cause of his wife’s disappointment.
Another character is the friend and former schoolmate of Mathilde, Madame Forestier, who personifies frustration. After visiting her, the protagonist “suffered so much when she came home” because of the contrast between their homes and lifestyles (Maupassant, 1884). Furthermore, this particular character owns the necklace, which Mathilde loses after the ball and has to replace. The friend becomes a symbol of poor and hopeless life full of physically hard housework, as the couple cannot afford a maid anymore.
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Although the situation where Mathilde misses the necklace is apparently the climax of the story, the sense of the entire work is in the resolution. Having decided to purchase a new jewel, the Loisels have to discharge the enormous debt. They do it successfully, but Mathilda loses her beauty because of hard work. Meanwhile, at the very beginning of the story, Maupassant proclaims that beauty is what actually determines a woman’s “place in society” (1884). When everything is over, Mathilde occasionally meets Madame Forestier in the street and tells her what has happened. Astonished, Forestier informs her friend that the lost necklace was an imitation. At this moment, the sense of frustration that has accompanied the reader since the climax reaches its peak, revealing that Mathilde’s self-sacrifice was senseless.
To summarize, despair and hopelessness are the key theme of Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Necklace. Both the setting and the characters contribute to the pessimistic mood, which becomes even more touching due to the slightly ironic tone. The literary techniques the author uses to develop the theme are, beside irony, a suspense, a personification, and an exaggeration made by means of using multiple synonyms. All of those tools serve to illustrate the absurdity of a self-sacrifice for the sake of material values. Maupassant lets his readers understand that such behavior is unreasonable and senseless, as it can only bring a distress in the result, but not happiness.
Maupassant, G. (1884). The Necklace. Short Stories. Web.