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.
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.