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'The Necklace' Review


Study Guide

Guy de Maupassant manages to bring a flavor to his stories that is unforgettable. He writes about ordinary people, but he paints their lives in colors that are rich with adultery, marriage, prostitution, murder, and war. During his lifetime, he created nearly 300 stories, along with the other 200 newspaper articles, 6 novels, and 3 travel books that he wrote. Whether you love his work, or you hate it, Maupassant's work seems to illicit a strong response...

One of his most famous stories, "The Necklace" (or "La Parure"), centers around Mme. Mathilde Loisel - a woman seemingly "fated" to her status in life. "She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks." Instead of accepting her position in life, she feels cheated. She is selfish and self-involved, tortured and angry that she can't purchase the jewels and clothing that she desires. Maupassant writes, "She suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries."

The tale, in some ways, amounts to a moralistic fable, reminding us to avoid Mme. Loisel's fatal mistakes. Even the length of the work reminds us of an Aesop Fable. As in many of these tales, our heroine's one really serious character flaw is pride (that all-destroying" hubris"). She wants to be someone and something that she is not.

But for that fatal flaw, the story could have been a Cinderella story, where the poor heroine is in some way discovered, rescued and given her rightful place in society. Instead, Mathilde was prideful. Wishing to appear wealthy to the other women at the ball, she borrowed a diamond necklace from a wealthy friend, Mme. Forestier. She had a wonderful time at the ball: "She was prettier than them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and crazy with joy." Pride cometh before the fall... we quickly see her as she descends into poverty.

Then, we see her ten years later: "She had become the woman of impoverished households-strong and hard and rough. With frowzy hair, skirts askew, and red hands, she talked loud while washing the floor with great swishes of water." Even after going through so many hardships, in her heroic way, she can't help but imagine the "What ifs... "

The ending becomes all the more poignant when we discover that all of the sacrifice was for nothing, as Mme. Forestier takes our heroine's hands and says, "Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste. It was worth at most five hundred francs!" In The Craft of Fiction, Percy Lubbock says that "the story seems to tell itself." He says that the effect that Maupassant doesn't appear to be there in the story at all. "He is behind us, out of sight, out of mind; the story occupies us, the moving scene, and nothing else" (113). In "The Necklace," we are carried along with the scenes. It's hard to believe we are at the end, when the final line is read and the world of that story comes crashing down around us. Can there be a more tragic way of living, than surviving all those years on a lie?

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