Critical Essay on The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
The short story “The Necklace” is French Guy de Maupassant’s most well-known literary work. This ic de Maupassant tale is set in 19th century France and is celebrated for its surprising denouement. The story revolves around a young woman and her husband who initially led an ordinary middle class life but became utterly impoverished because of an unfortunate incident. This is an irony of fate considering that what caused it was the young wife’s discontent for her so-so social condition and her intense craving for a life that her husband, a mere government worker, cannot give her. “The Necklace” therefore, offers the reader the caveat that people who cannot appreciate what little they have and insist on coveting what they cannot have may find themselves in worse situations than they are presently in.
To expound on the idea that too much discontent and materialism breed deleterious results, de Maupassant creates the character of Mathilde Loisel’s whose greatest failing is that she simply cannot accept her middle class social status that comes from being the wife of a mere government clerk. Everything in her home from its walls to its trappings is anathema to her: they are common, they are ugly, they are inelegant and they are simply poor. The thought of how unfortunate she is for being saddled with a life that deprives her of elegant surroundings with “quiet vestibules, hung with Oriental tapestries, lighted by tall lamps of bronze” (3) makes Mathilde cry and despair for days. To comfort herself, she deliberately closes her eyes to the drudgery of her surroundings and mentally transposes herself to an entirely different one. Thus, while she takes her meal in the dining table with her husband eating boiled beef with carrots, she instead imagines herself dining with “exquisite dishes, served in marvelous plates, of compliment whispered and heard with a sphinx-like smile, while she was eating the rosy flesh of a trout or the wings of a quail (4).
De Maupassant next introduces a conflict that would change the fortune of the couple not for the better as Mathilde would have liked it, but ironically, for the worse. This begins when Mathilde loses the diamond necklace that she borrowed from her rich friend Madame Forester (a friend she much envied for her wealth) to complement the expensive gown, the purchase of which she had emotionally wrangled from her husband, that she wore to the party. Embarrassed with the prospect of telling Madame Forrester of the loss, the couple spends the last of their savings and obtains several loans to buy a diamond necklace that could pass off for the original. These loans takes them ten years to pay, makes them gave up all the things they owned including their house and servant, and reduce the once pretty and gracious Mathilde to a “robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household. Badly combed, with her skirts awry and her hands red, her voice was loud and she washed the floor with splashing water” (104).
As if bringing home the point is not enough, de Maupassant delivers a surprising twist to the story’s end that manages to make the reader sit up. In the meeting between Mathilde and Madame Forester ten years after the incident, the former discovers that the diamond necklace loaned to her by the latter which caused the miserable change in her life was just mere costume jewelry. The falsity of the diamond necklace seems to symbolize the senselessness of Mathilde and her husband’s sacrifices for the last ten years. It must have been more painful for Mathilde to realize that her life became utterly impoverished because of a mere piece of worthless jewelry.
“The Necklace” is a lesson in discontent and unreasonable materialism. De Maupassant tells his readers that hankering too much for material things that one cannot obviously have presently and disregarding the little things that one already has may not lead to good results. The possibility that such a person may not only not get the things he wanted for himself but worse lose the very things he has but did not appreciate.