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“The Necklace” vs. “Paste”: Character Comparison

Comparing characters of Mathilde and Charlotte

In these two short stories, Mathilde is portrayed as the pretty and charming wife of Mr. Loisel, a minor clerk in the Ministry of Education. She is disillusioned with her small time life, with no grandeur or high living. Charlotte Prime is a governess in a school at Beet, and the cousin of Arthur Prime, who has inherited a small fortune, including jewelry, upon the death of her stepmother. Both these characters are portrayed as fond of jewelry, especially pearl necklaces. In Mathilda’s case, “She burned with the desire to please, to be envied, to be attractive and sought after.”

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However, although they are passionate about pearl jewelry, both Mathilde and Charlotte are totally ignorant about how to test the genuineness of such necklaces. Both these characters are driven by necessity of looking good and attractive to others, especially high society women. Although both women are plain but good-looking, they secretly nurse ambitions of looking attractive and smartly dressed with ostentatious ornaments, especially during parties and other social gatherings. Mathilde’s gullibility and naivety are seen when she cannot distinguish an original diamond necklace worth around 34,000 francs from cheap “costume” jewelry worth 500 francs (Maupassant, 10). However, conversely, in the case of Charlotte, it is seen that she is not able to recognize an original piece of pearl necklace, and returns it back to her cousin Arthur Prime, upon being convinced by Mrs. Guy (her friend) that the necklace is indeed original. There is a sad paradox and twist in the tales of both the characters, Mathilde and Charlotte. In Mathilde’s case, she mistakes costume jewelry borrowed from her friend, Mrs. Forrestier, and upon its loss, does not inform Mrs. Forrestier about it. Instead, in order to prove her honesty and good intentions, she persuades her husband, Mr. Loisel to take loans worth 34000 francs to buy an original pearl necklace to replace the costume ornament lost.

In case of Charlotte, it is seen that she takes the necklace believed it to be paste, but returns it back when she finds it to be original. However, when Arthur Prime realizes it to be original, he sells it off and pockets the proceeds. The gullibility and apparent naivety of both women are clearly portrayed in these short stories.

However, both Charlotte and Mathilde are portrayed as honest and self- esteemed characters, in that they both returned the jewels not wanting to be termed as thieves. In Mathilde’s agonizing case, it is a case of self-respect to return borrowed items, while in case of Charlotte it is the need to give back the item to its true owner. However, in both cases, the necklaces are returned believing them to be genuine.

Differences between Charlotte and Mathilde’s characters

The character of Charlotte is that of a shrewd and clever lady, who is able to extract the pearl necklace from her cousin on the pretext that since the original owner did not sell it, it must not be much worth. Arthur also begins to believe her story. Charlotte was in two minds whether it was genuine or paste. Unlike Mathilde, she did not brazenly display her borrowed jewels, nor wore it publicly. However, in the case of Mathilde, her attempts to be a part of high society caused the loss of the necklace and self-respect and ultimate partial ruination. While Mathilde used the necklace to overpower and enthrall her audience, Charlotte does nothing of this sort, only giving the necklace to Mrs. Guy for party wear. The ironic part of both these stories is that in the party attended by Mr. and Mrs. Loisle, the pearl necklace was not discovered and momentarily, Mathilde became the cynosure of everybody, whereas, in the party attended by Mrs. Guy, the genuineness of the necklace was established. It could be said that Charlotte was just a via media for Arthur to establish the genuineness of his stepmother’s gift. Although his stepmother did not sell off the piece during her lifetime, Arthur disposed it off the minute he was informed that it was genuine. The hypocrisy and double standards in Arthur’s dealings with Charlotte are well established. The matter of concern is what prompted her to return the jewels. Perhaps she desired something more than mere jewels or maybe she wanted to be portrayed as honest and truthful in her dealings with her cousin. The hypocrisy in contemporary French middle class society is clearly depicted in these two short stories. Another major difference is that while Mathilde was able to exert tremendous influence on her husband, Mr. Loisel, in terms of returning the jewel to its true owner, Charlotte could not force Arthur to part with it or give it to her. As a matter of fact, he sold the piece without her knowledge or consent since its value was “excellent.”

On a larger sphere, the characters of Charlotte and Mathilde could be seen as self-respecting and having sacrificing spirits, with strong convictions about good and bad. As a matter of fact, in Mathilde’s case, the lesson that the replacement of the lost necklace taught her was to become hardworking and committed to her household, frugal and painstaking, but in this process she lost her charm, sensitivity and frail temperament, which were her strong points. In the case of Charlotte, her self-doubts about the genuineness were sorted out by Mrs. Guy and the sale of it by Arthur, which reconfirmed its high resale value. The redeeming point of this story is that the conflict that had troubled Charlotte has been now resolved.

Works Cited

James, Henry. “Paste”. Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1876-1904) XLIX. 2 (1899): 0-011. American Periodicals Series Online.

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Maupassant, Guy De. The Necklace: Introduction: Reading, Responding to and writing About Literature. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 1884.

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