“The Necklace” (“La Parure”) is one of the most famous short stories by Guy De Maupassant. It tells a story about a French middle-class couple in the 19th century. The wife is longing for a luxurious life, unappreciative of her husband, and relatively happy life the couple is leading. Madame Loisel spends her time dreaming about all the luxuries they cannot afford to purchase while experiencing a feeling of shame for their actual life. The events described in the story reveal the features of the character of the heroine, which eventually leads her to live a life far poorer than she used to lead. An unexpected and ironic outcome provides a complex moral lesson that the readers are supposed to learn along with Madame Loisel. In the end, she learns that her image of high society was not real; the lack of appreciation of her moderate but sufficient fortune led to a disastrous outcome, and her husband’s efforts to provide for her went undeservingly unnoticed. The deceptiveness of appearances is the major theme of the story.
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The main heroine, Madame Loisel, comes from a family of clerks. With no dowry and no hopes of being married to a wealthy man, she becomes the wife of a clerk from the Ministry of Education. Mathilde does not enjoy her life, as it is far too modest. She believes she was born to lead a lavish lifestyle and spends her time imagining the rich and luxurious surroundings she deserves (Maupassant 789). The emotions she experiences because of her poor lifestyle are rather strong, as she regards it as a misfortune and even an insult. Mathilde does not appreciate her husband’s efforts to provide for her at all costs. Upon receiving an invitation to a high society soirée, she is miserable due to the lack of clothing and jewelry that would be worthy of a well off and distinguished person.
Monsieur Loisel is a generous and loving husband. In an attempt to please his wife, he denies himself the pleasure of buying a gun, giving up the money for Mathilde’s gown for the ball. Monsieur Loisel is attentive to his wife’s changing moods and gives her a valuable piece of advice on how to get the jewelry they cannot afford. During the soirée, he does not attempt to tarnish his wife’s delight at being appreciated and admired, and sleeps in a waiting room until four o’clock in the morning, even though he must be at work four hours later. Monsieur Loisel displays the qualities of a loving and attentive husband, striving to please his wife. Madame Loisel, however, does not appreciate his attention, as she regards him as an unimportant figure in society, unable to afford to lead a luxurious lifestyle.
Conflict and Narration
There is a third-person narration in the story, with an omniscient point of view, providing us with the innermost thoughts and feelings of the main characters. The conflict described by Maupassant in this short story revolves around Mathilde and the lost necklace. Striving to fit in with the members of high society, Madame Loisel is willing to borrow a diamond necklace from a friend, which she loses after the soirée. Due to her pride, she is unable, to tell the truth. She is ashamed of the fact that they cannot afford to replace such expensive jewelry. Therefore, the conflict of the story is tied to the lost necklace and the couple’s desperate struggles to repay the debt, which leads them in the end to life in poverty, a complete opposite of what Mathilde has always wanted.
Setting and Atmosphere
“The Necklace” is set in 19th century Paris, the Belle Époque. It includes descriptions of middle-class interiors, as well as of high society’s lavish lifestyle. Material things are described through Mathilde’s daydreaming about the luxurious life she was meant to lead. Her actual surroundings are described as ugly and poor, making her suffer greatly. The atmosphere of the story could be seen as dynamic since it changes as the plot evolves. Before losing the necklace, the atmosphere seems rather light and ironic. The reader follows Mathilde’s “sorrows” with a hint of a smile, perceiving her capriciousness and the lack of appreciation for her husband’s affection as typical qualities in a vain young wife. However, after the necklace is lost, there is a substantial shift in the atmosphere. Superficial vanity gives way to the pride that drives the couple to the brink of poverty. The light atmosphere of the first part is followed by the gloomy atmosphere of the last part, with an ironic twist at the end, meant to stress the moral lesson.
Tone, Language, and Major Theme
The tone is the attitude the author conveys by presenting the events and characters in a certain way. Certain elements of linguistic features indicate the author’s ironic attitude towards the main heroine. For instance, his use of the words “suffer,” “insult,” “torment,” “despair,” and “misery” to show Mathilde’s vainness and her inability to appreciate her life. The husband’s rhetorical question uttered at dinner, “What could be better?” is contrasted with her dreams about a luxurious lifestyle. The second part of the story, where the couple is forced to work hard in order to pay off their debt indicates the pride of the main heroine: “She played her part heroically” (Maupassant 793).
Aside from irony, Maupassant uses symbolism as a way to convey the main theme of the story. The necklace symbolizes the high society Mathilde is so eager to join. However, as the necklace turns out to be a mere imitation, it symbolizes the superficial nature of the upper class’ appeal. The fake necklace is a symbol of illusion that Madame Loisel is captivated by, which eventually leads to a disastrous outcome. Thus, the major theme of the story lies in the idea that notions such as beauty, wealth, poorness, and happiness depend on an individual’s perception. The appearances of upper-class lifestyles were deceptive, just as Mathilde’s appearance at the soirée, where she was such a success. However, neither the necklace nor Mathilde’s seemingly luxurious appearance was real, which leads us to believe that Maupassant wanted to stress the importance of illusory nature of appearances, in which the 19th-century French bourgeoisie was so immersed.
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From the standpoint of sociological/Marxist criticism, Madame Loisel is a member of the middle-class, an aspiring member of the upper class, and, in the end, a member of the lower class. The inability to accept her position in society and a constant yearning for a wealthier life lead the couple to find themselves at the bottom of the social structure. The amount of expensive material possessions is indicative of the class the people belong to, as well as of their social status. Mathilde is deceived by the superficial signs of wealth, leading eventually to becoming a member of the servant class.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant tells the story of a woman preoccupied with her desire to be wealthy and to belong to the upper class. The ironic twist at the end of the story renders her perception inconsistent with reality. As the plot unravels, the deceptiveness of appearances turns out to be the main reason for the disastrous outcome.
Maupassant, Guy De. “The Necklace.” Short Fiction. Classic and Contemporary. Ed. Charles Bohner and Lyman Grant. Upper Saddle River: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006. 789-795. Print.