“The Diamond Necklace”, by Guy de Maupassant, is one of the best short stories ever written. Taking an inanimate object, the necklace, Maupassant weaves around it human dreams and desires and then contrasts them too hard realities. He takes a beautiful woman as the central character of his story to exhibit female vanities by using the necklace as the symbol. The necklace represents her greed and desires. The story is also packed with irony. Man’s inability to know what can give him peace and happiness is also a serious message which emerges from the story. By going after petty things how one invites one’s own miseries is the central focus of the story. The story is a serious warning to all those who fail to bring happiness in life by accepting what is given. This paper is a critical examination of the story to highlight how Maupassant uses lifeless things to evoke wisdom in the readers.
Mathilde is a woman of exceptional beauty. She is set against the background of extreme poverty and ugliness. She lives in a poor house, as her husband is only a clerk. The settings in the story, particularly at the beginning, are significant. The woman is the only beautiful object. Walls are barren, curtains are ugly, and everything in the house stands opposite to the character’s physical beauty. Against the material poverty in the house stands the abundant desire of the protagonist. She is filled with rich instincts for an aristocratic life. The narrator says, “She thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs” (Maupassant). She wants gaudy dresses like beautiful gowns and plenty of jewels. She dreams of a life in which she walks in beauty, dressed like a rich woman, pleased by everyone, and becomes the much sought-after woman. “She thought of long reception halls hung with ancient silk, of the dainty cabinets …, with men famous and sought after, whom all women envy and whose attention they all desire” (Maupassant). The fate is, however, different. With a poor husband, she is doomed to live in a poor house and eat ordinary food. The first part of the story is thus filled with Mathilde’s strong dreams and desires against the background of a poor house.
Her husband, an ordinary clerk, is content with his job and with his wife. He is a disciplined man, having control over his purse and his mind. One day he comes home gladly to announce that he has been lucky to get an invitation for his wife and himself for a party in his office. He tells her that “Everyone wants to go; it is very select, and they are not giving many invitations to clerks. The whole official world will be there” (Maupassant). This is the crucial event in the story. Loisel is conscious of his duty as a husband. He always wants to make his wife happy. Unfortunately, the only way to make her happy is by providing her with material glory. His wife disappoints him as she tells him that she can attend the party only if she is supplied with jewels and a costly dress. His attempt to convince her fails: “You might wear natural flowers. They’re very stylish at this time of year. For ten francs you can get two or three magnificent roses” (Maupassant). He uses the money he saved for buying a gun to buy her costly dress, and the problem of possessing ornaments is overcome by deciding to borrow them from a friend. At last her friend, Madame Forestier lends her a diamond necklace. The title becomes significant as the story here takes a turn from the moment she momentarily fulfills her desire.
Mathilde, at last, finds herself in the world of her dreams. She is the center of attraction at the party. She is sought after, envied, and dances with pride. In other words, she is at the height of her vanity. Precisely at this juncture, the tragedy occurs. She comes back home to realize that the necklace has been lost on the way. The couple now struggles to pay back the money they spent for buying a new necklace to replace the lost one. The woman has changed now. She lives a hard life. She can wash now, can do her shopping, and can manage without a servant. She had thought before the loss of the necklace that “there’s nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other women who are rich” (Maupassant). She has now learned the real humiliation in her life. The change in her is the essence of the story. It is with the help of lifeless objects that the writer achieves the task of displaying her old greed and the new hardships. Mathilde has learned the value of love too. Love has replaced her despair. She realizes that the real beauty in life is in sacrifices and devotion to some duty and commitments. In her present life, it is the determination that “That dreadful debt must be paid” (Maupassant). The inanimate object, necklace, has thus opened her eyes. She could realize the difference between reality and appearance. It also represents the changing emotions in Mathilde’s life.
The story takes place in the nineteenth century. The place is Paris. Both the time and place are important to understand the greatness of the story. It was a time when the middle class, particularly the urban middle-class women, developed a craze for comforts and luxury, by imitating the aristocratic class. The city of Paris was one of the main centers of this unpleasant change. Therefore, Maupassant thought of taking the readers to a middle-class family in Paris, then through the busy streets, and finally to various rich jewelry shops. What finally dawns on them is that vanity without wisdom leads to one’s own fall.
Almost all lifeless things in the story, therefore, stand as metaphors or symbols. The necklace in the story stands for both true and false. It is false, appearing as true, which causes misery. Like the shining objects, the shining persons create confusion. A party is a place where snobbery is openly paraded. Mathilde is too innocent to distinguish between the real and the false. In fact, no one can sympathize with her. It is her husband who takes away the readers’ sympathy. However, a close reading of the story can reveal that Mathilde is too innocent to understand the sophistication of society. Madame Forestier did not tell her that the necklace was only an imitation and not an original diamond. The wisdom dawns on her only at the end, after a long tortured life. The writer must be trying to tell the readers that only experience can teach one. Society is filled with Forestiers and so long craze for material comforts last innocent Mathilde’s will be victimized.
With beautiful settings, with selected words carrying rich meanings, with some lifeless objects as symbols, Maupassant exposes vanity, false appearances, and the greed for insatiable material comforts. He is also successful in pinpointing where happiness is, how it can be obtained, and what one has to pay for not using one’s wisdom. Society becomes very sophisticated as the days pass. It becomes very difficult to differentiate between appearance and reality. Maupassant skillfully chose to make a woman, a beautiful woman, his central character. It is the fair sex which is always conscious of the external makeup. Therefore; the story also helps as a piece of feministic study.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Diamond Necklace”. Web.