Despite Guy de Maupassant’s ‘The Necklace’ being written in the late XIXth century, this story successfully transports its moral lessons to modern life. The author engages symbolism around the main object of the story, the diamond necklace, and the deep character portrayal of two heroines to reveal the common deceptiveness of human appearance. Situations of Mathilde and Madame Forestier described in the story demonstrate two psychologically different origins of deception. By analyzing motivation, attitudes, and consequences of deceit in this story, it becomes evident that the difference between clever dishonesty and open hypocrisy affects public perception and grows into major social stratification even nowadays.
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Condemned by de Maupassant, Mathilda, the protagonist, represents a hypocritical origin of deception for which she receives the punishment of living in poverty. Irawan characterized her as ‘full of envious resentment’, having ‘materialistic obsession’ and ‘unappreciative and selfish tendencies’ (6). Thus, heroine strives to obtain a luxurious look deceitfully with the intention to lie and brag about her social status. Matilda’s greed and vanity is punished with deprivation her of both her wealth and recognition. During the ball ‘All the men were watching her, asking her name, trying to get introduced’ while ten years later Madame Forestier replies to her ‘You must be mistaken!’ (de Maupassant 15-19). Two situations of Matilda being around people depict, that earlier multiple men would wish to talk to her, but then even a former friend does not recognize her. This strong contrast indicates the author’s disapproval of her behavior and states the moral: vain deception is improper and socially unacceptable.
On the contrary, in the story’s ending, it is exposed that Madame Forestier has resorted to dishonesty regarding her possessions. Of course, the initial motive for buying a fake diamond necklace was similar to Mathilda’s – to get beauty and attention, but Madame Forestier’s image allows to state that her intention was not to imitate a higher social class. De Maupassant gives a description of her feelings in the end as ‘deeply moved’ that shows her sincerity (20). Moreover, she admits the necklace being an imitation with notable ease which indicates that Madame is not ashamed of this act. Equally important to notice is the ‘implications’ of her attitude after ten years: she is ‘still young, still beautiful, still attractive’ (de Maupassant, 19). Unlike Mathilda, she had not lost any of her charm and pride, which leads to a conclusion that small deceit can be harmless and comply with the rules of morality.
Although the character’s experiences may be controversial, the premises of their actions can be reasoned within their cultural background. As de Maupassant lived in the XIXth century France, for modern people most of his stories ‘retain an exotic allure’ and ‘characters and settings are strangely unfamiliar as those in any traditional folk tale’ (Lloyd, 83). However, the social and psychological aspects of events convey reality, in this case, ‘The high standard of life which brought the self-destruction of woman in French’ (Nurmalasari and Samanik 3). The society of that time would require women to have a certain grade of outer beauty, unattainable without either wealth or its forgery. Interestingly, similar trends can be noticed these days with media promoting life standards beyond reach for most people. As a result, ladies continue to engage in deception commonly, which is considered both immoral and respective at the same time.
To sum up, “The Necklace’’ is a demonstration of different approaches to deceit. A greedy, selfish motive is inappropriate and punishable; a minor, open and not conceited intention is not shameful. However, both of them are accepted by society and, therefore, inevitable throughout history and until the present day. The supposed lesson for the reader to learn is to be happy with things they have and not pursue goals they cannot reach.
Irawan, Bambang. “Three Dimensional Aspect of a Main Character Mathilde in Guy De Maupassant’s The Necklace.” Morphosis: Journal of literature. vol 1, no 1, 2019, pp. 1-7. openjournal.unpam.ac.id/index.php/MPS/article/view/3193
Lloyd, Christopher. Guy de Maupassant. Reaktion Books, 2020, pp. 81-107
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De Maupassant, Guy. The Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times. Translated by Sandra Smith, WW Norton & Company, 2015.
Nurmalasari, Uning, and Samanik Samanik. “A Study of Social Stratification in France in 19th Century as Portrayed in The Necklace ‘La Parure’ Short Story by Guy De Maupassant.” English Language and Literature International Conference (ELLiC) Proceedings. vol 2, 2018, pp. 445-449.