Irony and Deception in “The Diamond Necklace”

Although written in the late nineteen century, “The Diamond Necklace” translates effortlessly to modern day with relatable life lessons supporting the deceptiveness of appearance. Through irony and symbolism, Guy de Maupassant’s story shows how appearance is often deceptive through the necklace, Madame Forestier, and Mathilde’s life. Although unknown to Mathilde, the lost necklace constitutes the least of her concerns. More importantly, her deteriorating character through conversation with Madame Forestier unveils a deceptive appearance from both women. Due to this ethical mishap, Mathilde and her husband face poverty to a heightened degree while living in the shadow of their once comfortable life.

Mathilde’s sole coveted object, the necklace, constitutes the pinnacle of deceptive appearance through its fake diamonds and an accompanying unrealistic persona. Wishing to portray an alter image other than her middle class status, Mathilde uses the necklace to portray a deceptive reality to the other partygoers and herself by believing that she too deserves this status automatically due to her beauty. She believes the appearance of expensive belongings is symbiotic with happiness and fulfillment in her life, only to find out that this plastic sense of reality consumes her constant thoughts and desires. Maupassant shows this desire by writing, “She had no dresses, no jewelry, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only. She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after.” (5).

In addition, appearance and perception often complement one another, since both are subject through personal opinion and thus deceptive. Mathilde’s thoughts about attending the party are later revealed, as Maupassant writes, “No; there’s nothing more humiliating than to look poor among a lot of rich women” (37). Further explaining the connection Mathilde placed between the necklace and self-worth, the story continues with irony as the necklace Mathilde sought after to prove her self-worth and appearance ended up destroying her beauty over the course of 10 hard years while repaying the necklace’s debt. Maupassant shares of the details by writing, “ Mme. Loisel seemed aged now. She had become the robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household” (104). Ultimately the power Mathilde thought was gained from the dress and necklace was solely based on how others would perceive her, showing that this persona came from a temporary contentment for her life rather than the objects. Maupassant again plays with irony, since the very item Mathilde sought for enhanced appearance takes away her perceived beauty by the end of the story, as Smith mentions, “Mathilde loses her youthful freshness and prettiness as she becomes a hard-natured housewife, doing all the household cleaning herself and fighting with shopkeepers over every centime as she struggles to make do on the least possible amount of money each month.”

Maupassant shows Mathilde’s contrasting life and personality as a consequence of loosing the necklace. With the necklace, Mathilde constituted a powerful and successful figure at the ball; without the necklace, she is simply a housewife burdened with the reality of poverty. Pierce explains this point in the story, “At the Ministry ball, Madame Loisel’s success is a direct result of her appearance of wealth and high social standing, whereas, in reality, she is relatively poor and is of a lower class.” Reinforcing the prevalent theme of deceptive appearance, the necklace not only is a symbol of Mathilde’s perceived social prosperity, but also the key to her social success and worth in her self-centered eyes.

Madame Forestier continues the theme of deceptive appearance through her dealings with Mathilde and ownership of the fake necklace when her wealthy lifestyle would suggest otherwise. Since Madame Forestier’s jewelry box represented her upper social class, Mathilde assumed the diamond necklace to be real. Maupassant shares of her excitement by writing, “All at once she discovered, in a box of black satin, a superb necklace of diamonds, and her heart began to beat with boundless desire” (48). However, the reality that Madame Forestier would buy a fake necklace suggests that she understands appearance to be deceptive, and power lying in the perception of any object is based on biased opinions. Maupassant injects humorous irony through the deception of appearance both women encounter by later writing, “Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine were false. At most they were worth five hundred francs” (128)! Although Mathilde ultimately ruins her lifestyle by not telling Madame Forestier that she replaced the necklace, Madame Forestier negates the reality that the necklace Mathilde borrowed was indeed counterfeit. Adamson shows Maupassant’s motive in holding off the crushing news of the necklace towards the end, by mentioning, “Writing of `her treasure’, `a superb diamond necklace’, he misleads the reader into believing that the necklace really is valuable.” Drawing the reader to believe in the deceptive value of the fake necklace, Madame Forestier’s reaction and comments about the necklace show twofold deceptiveness, from the poor and rich. As Steegmuller elaborates, “But even a halfway careful reading of the famous tale shows the relationships between the two women and between the heroine and her husband to be vague and unconvincing.” This distant relationship shows the contrast between the women’s perception of one another and their true reality and inward appearance.

Finally, life lessons from Mathilde’s life and family give much insight into how appearance can be incredibly deceptive. Resonating to modern times, applicable life lessons from “The Diamond Necklace” reminds the reader of the unstable surface life bases itself on. Maupassant resounds this concept near the end of the story while referring to the lost necklace, by writing, “How singular life is, how changeable! What a little thing it takes to save you or to lose you” (107). During the beginning of the story, a bystander would have described the outside appearance of Mathilde’s life as near perfect, complete with loving husband, sufficient food, and enough means to enjoy the small pleasures in life. However, the inward reality of Mathilde’s life proved the opposite, as Maupassant writes, “She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs” (3). This leads to the ultimate downfall for Mathilde, as her happiness is fleeting and contingent on others’ perception in addition to her never satisfied desire for the finer objects in life. Mathilde’s selfish desires also caused pain and turmoil for her husband, as Maupassant later writes, “He compromised the end of his life, risked his signature without even knowing whether it could be honored” (96). Smith also shares of the deceptive appearance Mathilde wished to portray to her friend by writing, “Rather than face the disgrace of going and telling Madame Forestier of the loss, they buy a replacement. The price is enormous. Now begins a desperate race against time to pay off everything.”

Mathilde acted and thought as if the grass was greener on the other side, with the metaphorical fence and barrier her lack of wealth. However, the other side of the grass can be deceptive and often comes with an entirely new set of issues, as shown by Madame Forestier’s possession of the fake necklace. Ultimately ruining their comfortable life, Madame Forestier’s fake necklace deceived the couple into signing and working their lives away. Showing this reoccurring theme both in the past and modern day culture, Bement elaborates this society downfall by writing,” By means of the necklace there is personified all the greed, all the shallow love of costly ornaments, all the striving of so many people to impress others by appearance. Here is the oft-recurring human trait of seeming to be what one is not, the desire to appear better than one is.” Wanting to appear as though belonging to a higher social class, Mathilde’s temporary contentment from the necklace also acted as a double-edged sword, increasing her tendency to lie to her closest friend while also slowly wearing down her marriage. Although Mathilde was not rich before or after the introduction of the necklace, she had her character prior as opposed to after, when she lacked the moral courage to admit the truth about Madame Forestier’s diamond necklace.

“The Diamond Necklace” shows how appearance is often deceptive through the necklace, Madame Forestier, and Mathilde’s life. Mathilde’s disregard for the present caused her to contemplate about a lavish future, while negating the present blessings in her life. Although the story appears to investigate how the necklace will affect Mathilde’s character and immediate surroundings, this symbol of wealth and accomplishment only changes her invested social interactions at the ball. With a society so invested in presenting flawless people, both financially and through appearance, Maupassant challenges this common assertion through his plot twist and woven life lessons concerning greed and perception.

Works Cited

Adamson, Donald. “The Necklace: Overview.” Reference Guide to World Literature. Ed. Lesley Henderson. 2nd ed. New York: St. James Press, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 July 2013.

Bement, Douglas. “The Woof-Plot in ‘The Necklace’.” Weaving the Short Story. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1931. 65-87. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 July 2013.

Maupassant, Guy de. “The Diamond Necklace.” Trans. Marjorie Laurie. An Introduction

to Fiction. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999.

Pierce, Jason. “An overview of ‘The Necklace’.” Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 July 2013.

Steegmuller, Francis. “An Overview of ‘The Necklace,’.” Maupassant: A Lion in the Path. Random House, 1949. 203-210. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 July 2013.

Smith, Christopher. “The Necklace: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 July 2013.

A Necklace as a Symbol: An Intersection between Marxist, Feminist, Psychological, and Formalist Readings of Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace”

Analytical lenses allow for readers to gain a deeper insight into a literary work, but since there are many, it can be easy to focus on a single lens and miss critical aspects of a story that only another lens would bring to light. Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” is a short story that has depth and can be analyzed at numerous levels to get different meanings out of it, although it is almost impossible to know what Maupassant himself meant for his message to be. In four lenses used in this paper, the necklace within the story highlights the central message, which differs between societal flaws, sexism, and deception.

This paper serves to dive deeper into Maupassant’s “The Necklace” by analyzing it through four different critical lenses to better comprehend specific characteristics, writing elements, and the reasoning behind the substantial usage of the necklace as a symbol. By doing so, one can see the point at which themes and ideas coincide, thus displaying a consistent, robust message no matter the lens used. All four lenses allow for details of the story to be understood on a profound level and emphasize importance. For example, Marxism stresses the characters’ economic backgrounds; feminism highlights the characters’ personalities; psychology explains the main characters’ longing to belong in the upper-class, and formalism draws on the necklace as symbolism to bring deception and shallowness to light.

Due to the historical context and France’s economic situation in 1884, The Marxist lens is apparent to many scholars, and has therefore been used in numerous analyses; meanwhile, Maupassant’s personal history and repetition of feminine themes within his stories have led many to the usage of a feminist lens. However, due to such obviousness, many scholars do not push further and consequently do not pursue any other lenses. After using the four lenses to analyze the story while drawing on scholars’ previous analyses and thoughts regarding these lenses, this paper aspires to explain what the necklace represents when seen through each lens, and how such symbolism, when united, creates a wholesome message.

Guy de Maupassant’s story “The Necklace” shows the weaknesses of the “Belle Epoque” and the widening gap between classes as the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer if looked at through a Marxist lens. The story was written during the “Belle Epoque” in France, which was from 1871 to 1914, included high standards of living and security for the upper-class, an increase in political stability and peace, growth in the chemical and electrical industries, increased usage of the telegraph and telephone, revolutionary agricultural machinery and fertilizers, and improved quality and quantity of food. Because of such improvements, the upper-class was able to have a better lifestyle, travel further, and only worry about the fashion trends. However, those who benefited from this glorious era were the wealthy who could afford the improved goods. Some members of the middle and low classes were able to earn more or attain certain goods due to the trickling-down of previously sought-after items, but the vast majority of the classes were living in small homes, were poorly paid, and were kept quiet due to the lack of socialist groups (Wilde). Once out of the war, Maupassant returned to law school, began to work for various Ministries, and began spending his free time boating and with prostitutes, which inspired much of his writing (Turnell and Dumesnil). Before his death in 1893, Maupassant had written over 300 short stories and six novels, most of which focus on women and sexuality. His common and consistent use of and focus on women suggests that one might use a feminist, woman-oriented lens when reading his stories. Using such a lens in “The Necklace” does make sense, as the main character is a woman. Although there is no historical or biographical evidence that one should look at the story through psychological or formalist lenses, both are commonly used on all sorts of stories without any evidence or elements hinting at the reader to do so.

In a Marxist reading, Dobie contends that “we are given a clear picture of a society that has unequally distributed its goods or even the means to achieve them. Madame Loisel has no commodity or skills to sell, only her youth and beauty to be used to attract a husband” (Dobie 87). This society that Dobie speaks of is the one that Matilda and Mrs. Forestier are both a part of; Mrs. Forestier belongs to the upper-class and has the goods that others envy, while Matilda is a part of the lower middle-class, and has no means to achieve her goal of becoming a part of the upper class because “she ha[s] no dowry” (De Maupassant 31), showing the importance of money. Although Matilda has good looks and is still able to attract a husband, he is only a lowly clerk and did not advance her social status in any way. As Matilda and her husband finally have a chance to go to a reception reserved for members of a high class, “the haves are separated from the have-nots…by what they own and what they lack and by their ample or limited opportunity to acquire wealth and power” (Dobie 88); this division becomes clear as Matilda has neither a dress nor jewelry to wear, which is when she borrows the necklace that she deems as extremely valuable because it comes from a member of the upper-class. This need to borrow jewelry and to deceive others and to appear wealthy demonstrates classism in Maupassant’s society.

Classism is “the belief that our value as human beings is directly related to a social class to which we belong: the higher our social class, the higher our natural, or inborn superiority” (Tyson 112). Classism is thus obvious in “The Necklace,” as Matilda believes that she has little value as a middle-class woman and aims to attain the status of an upper-class woman. Her worries about the way others will see her at the ball because she does not belong to the upper-class demonstrate that the wealthy only want to associate themselves with the wealthy due to classism. “The division [between the classes] grows more apparent and unbridgeable as the couple works at increasingly demeaning jobs to acquire the money to pay off their loans” (Dobie 88), says Dobie, as Matilda and her husband spend a decade working to buy another diamond necklace after Matilda lost Mrs. Forestier’s. It is not until Matilda has finally paid the necklace off that she finds out that the necklace was fake and was “not worth over five hundred francs” (De Maupassant 37). Maupassant uses her assumption that the necklace was of high value as a criticism of commodification, which is when we “relate to things and people as commodities…when we relate to it regarding how much money it’s worth” (Tyson 114). Dobie’s Marxist reading of the story focuses on the idea that “Both Mme. Loisel and her wealthy friend are victims of their society’s emphasis on sign value. The former is so dazzled by the glitter of jewels and gowns and fashionable people that she can find little happiness in the humble attentions of her husband-clerk” (Dobie 88), showing that a Marxist lens highlights the story’s criticism of society and commodification.

When taking these notions of society to look at the symbolism of the necklace, one can see three distinct possibilities. The first being that it embodies wealth, especially Mrs. Forestier’s, and how it equates to virtually nothing, for the necklace was deemed of high value but was worth nothing. The necklace might also denote commodification and its negatives since it was commodified from the beginning and leads to Matilda’s miserable lifestyle. Lastly, it might represent the entire upper class, for it was known to cause the misery of the lower classes when the story came out to the public, and the necklace caused the downfall of Matilda.

When using a feminist lens on “The Necklace,” one also sees flaws within society, but focuses less on the commodification of goods and instead concentrates on the patriarchy. The story follows Matilda, a female character, yet her husband is the one portrayed as the rational, decisive character within the story. This usage of the “weaker,” female character was certainly not a mistake and therefore hints that one should investigate their roles in the story. Matilda is a woman with “no dowry, no hopes, no means of becoming known, appreciated, loved, and married by a man either rich or distinguished” (De Maupassant 31) and is only worried about her looks and becoming wealthy, fitting into the traditional gender role of a woman who is submissive and has nothing other than looks (Tyson). Mrs. Forestier, although a woman of the upper-class, is only talked about regarding her wealth and her jewelry, and her skills are never mentioned, thus highlighting the idea that women were only meant for beauty. Lastly, Matilda’s husband does not talk much, but when he does, he is the one being rational and making decisions: “I will give you four hundred francs. But try to have a pretty dress” (De Maupassant 33), “go and find your friend Mrs. Forestier and ask her to lend you her jewels” (De Maupassant 33), “write to your friend that you have broken the clasp” (De Maupassant 35), and “we must take measures to replace this jewel” (De Maupassant 35). Maupassant makes it very clear that within his society, men oversee the money and make the executive decisions by showing that the man was making all the decisions and that the woman was not giving her input. However, because his decisions lead to the demise of the couple’s finances and hopes to become wealthier, a feminist reading brings to light the idea that men are not always right and should not be sole decision makers.

Through the feminist lens, one can see symbolism in both the necklace itself and the loss of the necklace. The necklace on its own represents women’s outer beauty, and how, in society, they have no genuine value. As it was the man’s idea to borrow and then replace the necklace, his decisions leading to the loss of the necklace, alongside his actions afterward, are characterized in the loss of the necklace. Such a loss, leading to their downfall, is portraying men pushing women down in society, since his decisions pushed her further down, and as men always making decisions but not always being correct, for she did not have a say regarding what to do with the necklace.

The psychoanalytic lens can be used on most short stories, as authors can show human flaw without intending to do so. By first looking at Freud’s Model of the Psyche, one can see how Matilda’s desires leading to her downfall is uncannily parallel to the idea of the id. The id, according to Freudian theory, is an ordinarily hidden side of a person’s personality, which has strong desires that go against societal norms. Thus, when one follows the id and its desires, one often goes against society and meets an unfortunate fate (Siegel). In this story, Matilda does follow her id, as she follows her greatest desire: becoming a member of the upper class, since “she had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And these were the only things she loved; she felt she was made for them” (Maupassant 31). Regrettably for her, following her desire leads to a life of misery, highlighting the idea that one should stick to society’s rules and should not follow their id. A second theorist one can analyze “The Necklace” with is Carl Jung, whose work includes ideas regarding person and archetypes. According to Jung, the persona is the identity we wish to project to others and is not the true self (Siegel). In this case, Matilda is a middle-class woman with little to no value, but she wants to seem more affluent and as if she belongs to the upper class, hence her persona being the woman she pretended to be at the reception. By focusing on the persona, while considering how deceptive the necklace was, one can see how Maupassant’s work demonstrates that one should not always believe what they see.

One’s persona is utterly represented by the necklace, thus demonstrating the necklace’s symbolism for Matilda’s persona. Since, as previously explained, Matilda’s persona was her being wealthier than she truly was, the necklace, seeming of higher worth than it was, represents the idea that people, and objects, can show a particular side of themselves that is not necessarily real.

This idea of deception can also be seen when the story is looked at through the formalist lens, with a focus on the necklace as the symbolism for unity. Formalism only uses what is within the story and can focus on different literary elements, but since the necklace is in the title and is the catalyst of the story, focusing on its symbolism and repetition makes sense. Deception only becomes apparent at the end of the story, but it is so in two different ways: the necklace fooled her into thinking it was worth more than it truly was based on its looks and Mrs. Forestier deceived her into borrowing a fake diamond necklace The necklace fooling her into believing it was worth a good bit based on its looks represents her as she tries to fool society into thinking she is wealthier, while the necklaced fooling her due to its origins, since it came from Mrs. Forestier, also represents the upper class and how they fool others into thinking they are worth more due to their origins. Mrs. Forestier giving Matilda a necklace of little worth shows a lack of trust between the two, which can be interpreted as a lack of trust between the two classes, and demonstrates how the upper class does not listen to the lower classes.

When formalism is combined with Marxism, feminism, or psychoanalysis, one can see the symbolism above possibilities of the necklace, making it extremely difficult to get one single meaning out of “The Necklace” and highlighting the necessity for the use of multiple lenses. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in all theories regarding the symbolism of the necklace, deception is the fundamental idea; in Marxism, commodification is shown to have negatives and to fool Matilda; in feminism, women are deceived into not making any of their own decisions; in psychoanalysis, the necklace and Matilda deceive others through outer looks and a persona; with a formalist lens, the necklace is showed to represent deception based on characteristics put on by others in front of a crowd. Combining all four lenses together as a whole allows for the reader to see how Matilda’s actions and the necklace show societal issues, how Matilda’s husband’s roles in their marriage highlights a patriarchal society, how Matilda’s obsession with wealth demonstrates how the id leads to one’s downfall, how Matilda’s actions prior to the reception show what a persona is, and how easy it is to deceive others based on looks and impressions.

While this research only hits the surface of the work to be done on “The Necklace,” it points out the evident usage of a necklace for symbolism, no matter what lens is used for analysis. By drawing on four separate lenses, it becomes evident that the meaning of the text differs tremendously and that one can get a much more wholesome view at the story and Maupassant’s criticism of society by combining different lenses. Such an approach can be used in other literary works for a much more wholesome understanding and should be used to avoid missing essential elements. Future research done on the necklace can draw upon this analysis while adding in the authors’ understandings of the work and other lenses.


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