The Necklace by Maupassant
The Necklace by Maupassant
💬 The Necklace by Maupassant is a short story that shows how a woman’s desire for fancy things leads to unexpected problems. It’s like a cautionary tale about being content with what you have.
Naturalism was a literary and artistic movement in the late 19th and early 20th century that was inspired by principles and methods of Natural Science, specially by the Darwinian outlook of nature. In literature, it is an extension and continuation of the ideas of Realism, that aimed to show reality as accurately as possible, without moral judgment. However, Naturalism had a more scientific outlook towards individual’s condition. Diverging from realism, naturalism subscribed to the tenets of scientific determinism (Determinism is essentially the opposite of free will, It presents the idea that although humans can react to their environment, but are helpless against outward factors like fate and destiny), prompting its adherents to foreground humankind’s incidental and physiological essence over its ethical and cognitive facets.
Characters in stories were presented as the products of heredity and environment, driven by instincts and influenced by extrinsic societal and economic pressures. Thus, naturalist works generally held that people’s actions were mostly controlled by biology and their surroundings, rather than their own sense of right and wrong. Consequently, agency and accountability featured minimally in their existential narrative, and a feeling of negativity consistently marked their potential outcomes from the very beginning.
About the Author
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893, age 42) was a French Naturalist writer who is by general agreement considered to be the greatest French short-story writer. He has written 300 stories in the naturalist style. These stories mostly described the life of lower and middle classes. “Boule de suif” (“Ball of Fat”) is regarded as his best story, while the best known is “La Parure” (“The Necklace”).
While pursuing his law degree, the Franco-Prussian War interrupted his studies. As he volunteered during the war, his experiences served as a material for some of his best works. Later, as a civil-service employee, he became an apprentice of Gustave Flaubert (Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist. He has been considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country and abroad).
Maupassant first gained attention with his “Boule de Suif” (1880; “Ball of Fat”), probably his finest story. Over the next 10 years, he published some 300 short-stories, six novels and three travel books.
His works present a wide, realistic view of French life between 1870 and 1890. They usually deal with the themes of war, rural life in Normandy, bureaucracy, life along the Seine River, emotional challenges faced by different social classes, and even hallucination.
Maupassant lived a phenomenally profligate life, and he contracted syphilis before he turned 25, which deteriorated his health. He tried to end his life in 1892 and was placed in a mental asylum, where he died at 42. He is generally considered France’s greatest master of the short story.
“The Necklace” is set in Paris, France, towards the end of the 19th century. During this period, around the time when Guy de Maupassant wrote the story, Paris went through significant changes socially, economically, and technologically. The city transformed from its medieval roots into a modern hub due to improvements in transportation, the growth of new industries, a surge in population, and an increase in tourism. This era is sometimes called the “Belle Époque,” which means the “Lovely Age.” It was a peaceful time of technological advancements that led to a period of great wealth, stylish fashion, and a strong focus on buying and owning material possessions.
This culture framed the setting of “The Necklace”, in which Mathilde feels immense jealousy of the wealthy and yearns for a life filled with extravagance, jewels, dresses, and material and financial excess. When the story begins, Mathilde is a young and attractive woman, but her youth and charm quickly escape her as she focuses on material possessions.
“The Necklace” is a short story about Mathilde Loisel, a middle-class woman who longs (means ‘to strongly desire or want something’) for a wealthy lifestyle. Mathilde is a beautiful and attractive woman who always believed to be destined for greater things than her life has brought her. Her feeling that she deserves the luxuries of life, and the fact that she was not able to afford those “delicacies” makes her suffer with the feelings of jealousy and longing. Contrary to her hopes, she is married to a Clerk at the Ministry of Public Instruction. Eventually, she settles into a life of mediocrity, always yearning for the feeling of being envied by women and pursued by men. As her desires were not fulfilled, she eventually started avoiding her wealthy friend Madame Forestier, who was also her former schoolmate. She chose to avoid her because when she returned back from her friend’s opulent (means “luxurious”) house, her mediocre lifestyle made her feel even worse.
One evening, Mathilde’s husband, Monsieur Loisel brought her a news that, he thought, would make her jump for joy. But, his presumption proved wrong when Mathilde felt annoyed hearing that they have been invited to a grand ball and celebration at the palace of the Ministry—an invitation that her husband had managed with great efforts. Instead, she scorns him telling that she would not be able to attend the party if she didn’t have a proper dress. Trying to console her, Monsieur asks about the cost of a simple dress. Mathilde replies that it would cost around four hundred francs. Monsieur Loisel has saved just that amount of money to gift himself with a gun and a getaway with friends the next summer, but he gives his wife his savings so that she can buy the dress she desires.
As the date of the ball approaches, Monsieur notices Mathilde’s anxiety and her odd behaviour. When he enquires about the reason, she tells that she cannot go to the ball without having a single jewel to wear with the dress. He tries to convince her that “natural flowers [are] very stylish at this time of the year,” but Mathilde cannot be convinced. Instead, she expresses her worries that she will be humiliated looking “poor among other women who are rich.” Monsieur suggests that she borrow some jewellery from her friend, Madame Forestier. She is overjoyed with the idea.
Madame Forestier shows her several pieces of jewellery from her collection, from pearl necklace to pieces with precious stones and “admirable workmanship,” but she is not satisfied. She asks her to show something else and Madame Forestier reveals “a superb necklace of diamonds.” Mathilde places it around her neck with trembling hands, “lost in ecstasy at the sight of herself.” She happily departs with the necklace.
When the ball arrives, Mathilde Loisel is as glamourous as she’s ever dreamed. She is “elegant, gracious, smiling, and crazy with joy.” Men desire to know about her and beg to be introduced to her. The attaché of the cabinet wants to dance with her and the Minister himself comments about her. Mathilde danced until four in the morning. She was drunk with the pleasure of her dreams being true. Finally, it was time to return home. Mathilde finds her husband sleeping in a waiting room. When Monsieur Loisel wraps his wife in the “modest wraps of common life” before leaving, Mathilde again feels the pains of her relative poverty in comparison to the women who wrap up in “costly furs” as they prepare to leave.
To avoid being noticed by other women, Mathilde quickly leaves the room and runs outside down the street. They couldn’t find a carriage and it takes long to reach home. At home, she approaches the mirror to admire her beauty one last time before she transforms into her mundane mediocrity. She notices the missing jewellery that she has borrowed from her friend.
She is panicked and informs her husband about the missing necklace. Monsieur in frenzy asks her a series of questions about the possibility where the necklace might have lost. Monsieur Loisel leaves to retrace their steps but returns at seven o’clock empty-handed. He visits the police and newspaper offices. He even offers a reward but it doesn’t help. Finally, he suggests Mathilde to write Madame Forestier about the clasp of the necklace being broken and that they will get it fixed before returning. Mathilde does as instructed and Loisels get into the venture of looking for an exact match of the necklace. After much effort they find a necklace that they think is the exact match of the lost necklace but it would cost them thirty-six thousand francs.
They try to manage money from everywhere they can and add the sum to the eighteen thousand francs left to Monsieur Loisel by his father, and pay for the new necklace that they return to Madame Forestier. Mathilde then turns to repaying the debt she and her husband have incurred. She dismisses her servant, changes her house, and takes in a tenant.
Mathilde settles into the “horrible existence of the needy” as she submits to heavy housework, scrubbing floors and scraping pots with her nails. She learns to carry and fetch water and develops skills to bargain with the grocer and butcher.
Ten years pass in this hardship until Loisels are able to return the debt of thirty-six thousand francs. She goes for a walk in the Champs Elysees one Sunday and encounters Madame Forestier there. Since she has now paid off the debt, she decides to speak to her former friend, whom she hasn’t seen in all these years, and tell her the truth about the necklace.
Madame Forestier could not recognise her at the first glance but when she does, she utters a cry on her pathetic appearance. Mathilde explains that she’s had to work ten years of strenuous labour to pay back loans she incurred for the loss of Madame Forestier’s original diamond necklace but that she is relieved that “at last it is ended.”
It is at this point that the painful blow is delivered: Madame Forestier takes Mathilde’s hands and explains that the necklace was fake, worth at most five hundred francs.
Greed and Vanity
The primary theme in “The Necklace” is how greed and vanity can be destructive. Mathilde and her husband live a comfortable life. They have a modest home, but she “felt herself born for every delicacy and luxury.” Mathilde is beautiful but she dislikes her social position and desires more than her current situation allows. She is overly concerned with her outward appearance, fearful of what others will think of her simple attire. Although she has youth, beauty, and a loving husband, Mathilde’s obsession with material things steals away the life she might have had.
Appearance vs. Reality
Guy de Maupassant uses “The Necklace” to explore the theme of appearance versus reality. At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to Mathilde. She appears beautiful, youthful, and charming. Behind her beauty, however, Mathilde is unhappy and critical with her social and financial status, always wanting more. She is blind to the wealth of love, youth, and beauty she has, constantly searching for material wealth. Mathilde is jealous of her school friend, not realizing what others have may be simple imitations. Even the necklace she borrows is a fake, though it looks real. When she wears fancy clothes and the borrowed necklace, she too becomes fake, pretending to be what she thinks others want and admire.
Madame and Monsieur Loisel exemplify how pride can be destructive to the individual and society. Not satisfied with living within her means, Mathilde strove to appear wealthier than her social and economic status allowed. Despite deep suffering, the two characters accept their fate and the responsibility to replace the necklace. The sacrifice Monsieur Loisel makes in the name of love and to stand by his wife, whether it be depriving himself of a rifle or his own inheritance, is heroic. Mathilde accepts her fate as a worthwhile price to pay for a valuable piece of jewellery.
However, their life of limitations and sacrifices doesn’t end up being worthwhile. Had Madame Loisel simply admitted her mistake and spoken with her friend, their life could have been completely different. This inability to communicate, even amongst friends, reveals the detachment between the social classes in 19th century France.
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