“The Necklace”: Response Paper
Guy de Maupassant’s shorts story, “The Necklace, is what appears to be a relatively simple story surrounding the unhappiness and void lifestyle that seeking to enrich oneself necessarily leads to. Although an even deeper and fuller analysis reverts back to such a basic premise, the literary devices, and the means by which the author develops such a theme are far from simplistic. In this way, the plot itself is not what allows the story to have a nuanced and accomplished flavor; rather, it is the way that author is able to seek to differentiate what would otherwise by a simple story with advanced and/or complimentary elements of characterization, symbolism, and setting which aid the story in both its overall integrity and believability as well as its power.
The first of these elements with which this author will seek to briefly engage is that of the plot. As stated, the plot is a fairly simplistic one whose power is only augmented by the other literary elements that the author seeks to employ. Interestingly, the level of forecasting and foreboding that the author incorporates does not lead to the weakening of the structural integrity or overall level of interest the story portends. Whereas a heavy degree of forecasting is often indicative of a fairly weak plot that is too concentric upon an end goal or moral, Maupassant’s short story helps to reader to engage with the fact that the protagonist’s greatest struggle lies not in the wants and needs that a more lavish material lifestyle could provide but from a core hollowness that is exhibited and threatens every aspect of her life, her marriage, and her worldview.
As an element to build such a plot, the author works to build a firm and defensible characterization of the protagonist within the first few opening paragraphs. Although many authors do not do this in an attempt to pull the reader in to a more nuanced understanding of the individual attributes of their characters, Maupassant directly engages the reader with regards to what precisely is wrong in the given situation. The characterization of the protagonist as a shallow and narrow-minded materialistic woman only serves to further enrich the foreshadowing that Maupassant seeks to provide the reader throughout the story. As Mathilde Loisel is described as and exhibits signs of material mindedness, the reader is left to piece together a recognizable tale of greed and selfishness which invariably will lead to the complete and total financial and moral ruin of the family.
These factors of course lead on to recognize the way that Maupassant engages the reader with the overall symbolism within the story. Rather than merely relating a simple story within what could be understood as a simple allegorical vehicle of sadness and loss, the writer chooses instead to relate the story in a manner which portends highly Biblical and figurative language indicative of mankind’s seemingly never-ending quest to gratify insatiable needs and wants. The first way in which the author attempts to convey such a thought is the way that he uses the relationship between husband and wife as indicative of the self-serving nature of the way that Mathilde views her life and its surroundings. Rather than being satisfied with adequate, Mathilde is overcome by a desire to experience more than what she has. She wants fine china, better quality and variety of her foods, a nicer home, a husband that can provide these luxuries, and wealthy friends with which to enjoy such finery with (Maupassant 15). This desire is of course juxtaposed with the fact that the husband himself is totally satisfied with a simple/humble life and appears to be satisfied not only in these things but also within the marriage as a whole. Moreover, the strong undertone of an Adam and Eve-like relationship develops between the two characters as the story progresses. Although this may be seen as a stretch, the reader should consider the fact that Eve (Mathilda) longed after the forbidden fruit (wealth or more specifically the diamond necklace). As such, she was willing to sacrifice all in order to achieve it (if only fleetingly). Just as in the Biblical story, Eve sold eternal life/happiness/and her formerly enjoyable life for but a few fleeting moments of bliss. As such, the husband and wife were cast out of their apartment (Garden of Eden) and forced to work multiple jobs (tend the land) in order to notice a result of their labors; i.e. repay their debt.
As such, the mechanisms that the author employs to bring about his objective are of primary importance. Without such a nuanced and complete understanding of the ways in which this can be accomplished, the full weight and power of the story and its intentions may well be lost on the reader. By combining effective plot development, symbolism, and thematic elements, the author is able to present a story that is both indicative of basic human behavior and cautionary to the ills of what such a nature can ultimately affect.
Maupassant, Guy. The necklace and other short stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1992.