“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant depicts the place of a woman in a social hierarchy of the 19th-сentury France. The story about Madame Loisel, a poor clerk’s wife who dreamt of being rich, reflects the problem of opportunities for development and personal growth for women. A dramatic ending emphasizes the difficulties that they faced in an attempt to achieve their goals in a patriarchal society. All in all, a woman in “The Necklace” plays a passive role, being pressed by the circumstances and by strict social rules.
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The story depicts an ordinary bourgeois woman, Matilda Loisel, who is a wife of a poor clerk. She dreams about beautiful dresses and jewelry, but lives in modest conditions (“She suffered endlessly, feeling she was entitled to all the luxuries of life” (Maupassant, 2020, p. 2). When her husband brings her an invitation to a party, she is angry because she has nothing to wear. Then the husband gives her the money that he saved to buy a gun. Matilda is still irritated, because she has no jewelry. Finally, she decides to borrow a necklace from her friend, Madame Forestier. The author emphasizes the contrast between the Matilda’s despair and her husband’s puzzlement. For Monsieur Loisel, it is difficult to understand that his wife cannot just put on a dress that she usually wears in a theatre. Maupassant depicts a huge gap between a male and a female perception of the world and their values: men in the story do not even notice the problems that women experience.
It is also interesting that Madame Loisel takes her husband’s money for granted, although for him it could be difficult to spend the money for things that he does not need instead of the gun that would be much more useful. She does not express any gratitude to him for his help. On the one hand, it can be explained by the fact that she does not love anything excepting gowns and jewelries. On the other hand, most of the women in that layer of society could not earn money themselves and did not have any decent opportunities for work and development (Yadav, 2019). That puts them in a position of passive people who have to be cared for but who cannot decide anything.
Madame Loisel feels resentment about her position in the society. Her poor house “tormented her and made resentful” (Maupassant, 2020, p. 3). She wants to enter the upper class, but her social position from the very birth did not allow her to find a rich husband. However, the author explains that for women there is “no cast, no rank”: instead of social position they have beauty and charm. It demonstrates that women in this society are strictly segregated from men and have their own social ladder. Moreover, it is difficult to move up this ladder, because it mainly depends on such inherent qualities as physical attractiveness.
The roots of such a situation lie in the state of the French society in the 19th century. In a profound analysis of this story made by Yadav (2019), an explanation of Matilda’s character can be found. She is a “typical 19th century woman”, living in an after-war country with a corrupt government that experiences an after-shock of the British revolution (648). Bourgeois were striving to get into the upper-class society and to change their status in order to get aristocratic pleasures. Such people were seeking profit, and moral values were almost lost. As Yampolsky (2017) noticed, for the people of that time a conflict between social norms and their notion of self was quite common. Thus, the state of the society defined the personal problems experienced by bourgeois women.
Concerning Matilda’s personality, the author emphasizes that her dreams are utterly materialistic. For example, by using enumeration, he depicts all the items that Matilda would like to possess. As Kapau et al. (2019) put it, Matilda experiences “a complex of unending desire for things such that one lives beyond his or her means”, forgetting to enjoy the things she already has. Possessing things is the height of her ambitions, as she does not create anything and does not contribute to the society.
The story allows the reader to make an assumption that other bourgeois women have the same circle of interests. The balls seem to be an important event for women only. For example, in contrast with Matilda’s ecstatic joy, her husband is described dozing in a company with several other men. This detail demonstrates that for women such events were, perhaps, the only opportunity to get some new emotions, to feel self-importance, and to attract the attention of rich men. Men’s attention gives a woman a certain power, as Matilda is full of joy, when they “stared at her, asked her name, tried to be introduced” (Maupassant, 2020, p.3). Such attractiveness is the criterion of success, since the fact that the minister noticed her serves as the climax of the story, showing that Matilda has fulfilled her desire to be appealing.
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Matilda’s character fully reveals in the end of the story. She has lost the necklace and has had to work for ten years to earn the money to buy a new one. On the one hand, the readiness to redeem herself characterizes her as an honest woman (Yadav, 2019). On the other hand, she has to lie to her friend, giving her the new necklace. The end is ironical, as the first necklace turns out to be fake. This is the price that Matilda paid to be “normal”, like other women.
However, Madame Loisel is not the only female character in the story, although she is the main one. There is also Madame Forestier, her rich friend who lends her the necklace, and some other rich women at the party. In contrast to Matilda’s anxiety and delight (when she looked at the necklace, she was “lost in ecstasy”), Madame Forestier is very calm, and she kindly allows her friend to wear the necklace (Maupassant, 2020). For her the jewelleries do not seem to be very important. It demonstrates that women from upper class had some other values and another perception of the world: they possessed everything Matilda dreamt of and had other dreams and problems.
Throughout the story, Matilda’s personality undergoes a great change. After ten years of hard work, she starts to look as a woman from the working class. She becomes “strong, hard and rough like all women of impoverished households”, but at the same time her woe made her brave and allowed her to feel that she has achieved something (Maupassant, 2020) Speaking to her friend Madame Forestier after ten years of work, she smiles proudly when says that she has bought a necklace instead of the lost one.
Thus, the analysis of the story shows that women in the 19-th century bourgeois society did not have much opportunities to develop within their class and had a narrow circle of interests. However, despite the falling to the bottom of the social ladder, the main character of the story had had a chance to feel that she can solve problems herself. The personality traits of these women were formed by their whole environment, and only external challenges could change them.
Kapau, H. & Chilala, C. & Simwinga, J. (2019). The characterisation of Mathilde in the ideational metafunction of Guy Demaupassant’s The Necklace: A monogeneric corpus- based analysis. International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature (IJSELL), 7(7), 24–36. http://dx.doi.org/10.20431/2347-3134.0707004
Maupassant, G., de. (2020). The diamond necklace. (A. M. Cohn-Mcmaster, Trans.). SAGA Egmont.
Yadav, S. (2019). Character analysis of ‘Mathilde Loisel’ in the Maupassant’s “The Necklace”. International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences, 4, 647–649. https://dx.doi.org/10.22161/ijels.4.3.16
Yampolsky, E. (2017). Identity trouble: Fragmentation and disillusionment in the works of Guy de Maupassant. Peter Lang.