Maupassant’s Use of Setting in The Necklace
In the story The Necklace, Guy De Maupassant uses the settings to further heighten the dramatic effect of the change in the character of Mathilde Loisel. At the various stages of Mathilde’s character’s transformation, the setting complements to reflect her actions and emotions.
At the start of the story, Mathilde is depicted as having accepted her lot, knowing she has beauty but that her station in life granted her nothing more than a life married to a clerk. She still daydreams of luxurious parlors and exquisite food as she moves around her own home with its simple furniture.
The Mathilde depicted here is a girl who still has fantasies of escaping her present situation, and Maupassant’s juxtaposition of the images of the lavish setting with the vestibules with Oriental trapestries and large parlors adorned with olden silk with Mathilde’s dreary reality of worn walls and abraded chairs strike a strong contrast between her desires and her inescapable circumstance.
When Mathilde went to the party, she was changed – she became truly the girl that she was meant to be, desired and sought after, in a place she felt she belonged. Although Maupassant did not detail it, the reader can imagine extravagant ornaments, crystal chandeliers, and blatant affluence everywhere, lifting Mathilde’s spirits up as her dreams came true: that night she was Cinderella at the ball. But she knew it was a dream, because the other women had furs and she had wraps that spoke of her true station in life.
And to bring her feet back on the ground, when she got back home – to the dreary place seemingly more dreary now after all the glamour of the mansion – she discovers she lost the necklace. Their home full of wanting etched its emptiness even more with the realization that she was missing something very valuable, something that was worth more than anything she has.
And then, she comes to accept reality – she cannot afford the luxurious life, and because of her whims and fantasies she has cost them a fortune they did not have in the first place. To make up for her behavior, she threw herself to work – her pink nails scrubbed themselves hard in the kitchens where it was dirty with greasy pans and dark-bottomed pans. Here we see Mathilde’s descent – she came into terms with her social status and acted like it. She no longer fancied herself a woman out of place meant for better things, above the needy and the poor common people. They left their house and stayed at the attic; she went to the market and threw water on streets. In the kitchen, in the market, in the attic, she became one of them.
And finally, when they have repaid all their debts because of the necklace, we find Mathilde walking at the Champs Elysées for leisure after a week’s hard labor, triumphant because now she is a free woman. The Champs Elysées is hailed the most beautiful avenue in the world, and it is only fitting that Mathilde meet her old friend here. She was no longer the beauty that she was, she was no longer desirable nor recognizable, but she gained a new beauty within: she was her own woman now, strengthened by hard life, and with a firm grasp of reality and newfound pride having paid her dues.
And with that pride she went up to her old friend, the same moneyed lady from before. Mathilde stood out in the luxury of Champ Elysées’s beauty, and yet momentarily we saw her transformed again because after all these years of hard work, it was still her foolishness and pride that cost her own beauty and charm. But more than anything, it felt that she belonged there amidst all that glory, because after working herself to that state of being one of the poor as she saw them, as one all her hard work has gained her the richness that she always dreamed of in her younger days.
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