‘The Necklace’: Plot Summary
"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant is a captivating short story set in 19th-century France. The narrative follows Mathilde Loisel, a beautiful woman married to a clerk in the Ministry of Education. Despite their modest means, Mathilde daydreams about a more luxurious and extravagant life.
When her husband receives an invitation to a high-class ball, he eagerly suggests that they attend together. However, Mathilde despairs, believing she lacks appropriate attire for such a prestigious event. In a selfless act, her husband offers to buy her a new dress, sacrificing his own desires to fulfill her wishes.
However, Mathilde's anxiety deepens when she realizes she lacks jewelry to complement her outfit. Her husband suggests she borrow something from her friend, Madame Forestier. Madame Forestier graciously lends Mathilde a beautiful diamond necklace, allowing her to feel glamorous and admired at the ball.
At the end of the evening, as Mathilde and her husband search for a cab, she discovers that she has lost the necklace. Fearful of Madame Forestier's reaction, they decide to replace the necklace secretly. They buy a new necklace, spending a significant sum of money and accumulating substantial debt in the process.
Over the next ten years, Mathilde and her husband struggle to repay their debts. Mathilde takes on household chores, which quickly age her, while her husband works an additional job in the evenings. Their sacrifices are relentless as they strive to clear their financial obligations.
Eventually, Mathilde encounters Madame Forestier, who no longer recognizes her. Overwhelmed by guilt, Mathilde confesses the truth, expecting harsh judgment for losing the necklace. However, to her surprise, Madame Forestier reveals that the necklace was an imitation made of inexpensive materials, rendering it virtually worthless.
The revelation shatters Mathilde's perception of the necklace's value and the sacrifices she and her husband made to replace it. The story concludes with the realization that their decade-long struggle was in vain, highlighting the tragic irony and the consequences of Mathilde's longing for material wealth and societal status.
The Necklace: Analysis
In his renowned work, 'The Necklace,' Guy de Maupassant delves into the intricate relationship between appearance and reality. The necklace itself serves as a striking embodiment of this theme, appearing as a genuine diamond necklace but ultimately revealing its true nature as an imitation or counterfeit. This revelation prompts readers to critically reevaluate other aspects of the story.
The Perils of Discontent and Consumerism
'The Necklace' specifically explores the dangers of discontentment and the ceaseless desire for more. The nineteenth century witnessed a surge in consumerism, particularly among the middle class, who sought to enhance their lives and keep pace with their peers in terms of possessions, clothing, and social status.
While Maupassant's story does not delve into scathing social satire, the fate of the female protagonist serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of pursuing consumerist gratification to impress and gain admiration from others. The Loisels lead a comfortable lower-middle-class existence, with Mathilde even having a servant to assist with household chores.
However, this proves insufficient for Mathilde, who constantly yearns for more. She desires finer dining experiences, considering her current meals inadequate. Her dissatisfaction is so profound that one might assume she is living in poverty.
Ultimately, this relentless pursuit of more leads to her downfall, as well as her husband's. Mathilde's insistence on obtaining jewels to wear to the ball propels her into a life of genuine poverty. The couple is forced to downsize from a modest apartment to a small garret, and Mathilde must adapt to working as a servant in her own home. Her strenuous labor diminishes her natural beauty as she toils tirelessly to scrub the floors.
A Twisted Cinderella Story
The critic Rachel Mesch, in her book 'Having It All in the Belle Epoque,' highlights 'The Necklace,' among other stories, as a distorted Cinderella tale. While Cinderella begins her journey by scrubbing floors and eventually attends the ball in resplendent attire, Mathilde experiences the inverse. She attends the ball but loses her necklace (rather than a glass slipper), resulting in her descent into a life of menial labor.
Mathilde's longing for more ultimately leads her to possess less than what she started with. However, the story's deliciously ironic twist reveals that her plunge into poverty was all in vain. Similar to the admiration she foolishly pursued, the necklace she desperately sought to replace turned out to be a mere sham.
Maupassant suggests that modern consumerism is a deception, where anyone can pass themselves off as an upper-class member by acquiring a cheap imitation necklace. The author implies that these alluring "finer things" in life often prove hollow and worthless at their core.
Yet, even when reduced to a life of grinding poverty, Mathilde nostalgically reminisces about the night she was admired at the ball. It is as if she believes it was all worth it, regardless of the subsequent events. She wonders how her life would have unfolded if she had never lost the necklace.
At this point in the narrative, Mathilde remains unaware that the diamonds she wore were imitations. This revelation might have altered her perspective. Nevertheless, the knowledge that they were fake diamonds raises further contemplation of "what if" scenarios. Madame Forestier discloses at the end that the necklace cost a maximum of five hundred francs, implying that Mathilde's husband could have effortlessly purchased a cheap necklace that no one, except the Loisels themselves, would have discerned as an imitation. After all, Mathilde received admiration at the ball despite unknowingly wearing counterfeit diamonds.
Narrative Style and Perspective
'The Necklace' is narrated in the third person by an omniscient narrator. Maupassant employs a broadly realist style, with his narrative voice providing concise and crisp details of the story. Unlike the introspective insights into characters' thoughts and emotions commonly found in the works of later modernist writers, Maupassant offers sporadic glimpses into Mathilde's feelings regarding her circumstances.