Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness
“Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult.” Samuel Johnson.
Women, who share the same social class, can have different outcomes based on what they deem to be important. An example of this can be seen in O. Henry’s character Della from The Gift of the Magi and Guy and De Maupassant’s Mathilde from The Necklace. Both characters live in poverty and their social class affects their self- perception, understanding of their environment, and how they treat others.
First, let’s look at how Della and Mathilde attain the things they do not possess. Both women want to be able to afford the basic and if possible the best things of life. Mathilde from The Necklace is depicted as a woman with expensive taste. When invited to a ball she feels ashamed that she doesn’t have anything nice to wear. She gets mad at her husband since it’s his fault she has no clothes or accessories to wear, Monsieur Loisel is upset by her reaction, yet out of kindness asks how much a satisfactory dress would cost. Monsieur Loisel is quite shocked at the amount of money she wants but agrees to give her the money. The day of the party arrives and Mathilde Loisel is not acting herself she tells her husband the reason for her behavior is the absence of jewelry is overwhelming for her. Monsieur Loisel suggests that she wear flowers, but she refuses. He recommends she visit Madame Forestier and borrow something. Madame Forestier agrees to lend Mathilde a piece of jewelry, and Mathilde selects a diamond necklace. Mathilde Loisel is filled with joy and appreciativeness towards Madame Forestier’s generosity. So here we see Matilde compensate by borrowing her friend’s necklace and manipulating her husband into buying her in outfit. At the time of the event, she was able to get the attention of others she wanted. She appeared like a woman of class and importance, but as the night ends she loses the necklace in which she is unable to replace. In contrast, Della from The Gift of Magi is burden by the fact that she is unable to give a Christmas gift to her husband. Selfishly, she cuts her hair and sells it in so that she will be able to afford a gift for her husband. Similarly, both women are limited by their impoverish state, like people within their class they can only sell valued possession or beg.
Secondly, the two novels highlight how poverty makes or breaks relationships. Mathilde was being married to a low-status clerk in the Ministry of Education, who can only afford to provide her with basic shelter food and clothing. Mathilde felt that her poverty is a burden. Given that she was born within a respectable family. She regrets the outcome of her marriage, and every day and imagines a wealthier lifestyle. Similarly, Della and her husband are getting by with little to no money. Jim was once a well-paid man at his job making thirty dollars a week. However, there was a cut back in money, so as a result he was only being paid twenty dollars a week. Della too wasn’t able to contribute or save that much either. Although she was saving her pennies it was nothing in comparison to what her husband was bringing home. Similarly, both women hoped their relations to their husbands will provide a sustainable life. For Mathilde, she wanted to maintain or upgrade the life she was grown into while Della experience brief riches was content with what she had even if it wasn’t a lot.
Thirdly, poverty affected Mathilde and Della’s sense of beauty and worth. For Mathilde, at the party, she was the prettiest woman present. Every man was eager to dance with her and she danced a lot and had fun all night. At the end of the ball, Mathilde searches for Monsieur Loisel, who had been deserted. He helps put her cloak on and suggest waiting inside since outside is cold. Mathilde felt ashamed of the cheapness of her cloak and follows Monsieur Loisel outside. They walk for a while before hailing a cab. When they finally return home, Mathilde is sad that the night is over. One can imagine, Mathilde was not only embarrassed about her appearance but also of her husband. Who most likely at this event didn’t have the flashiest clothing. On the other hand, in order to keep their gift giving tradition. Della is wrestling with the selling her most prized possession, her hair. Della’s hair defined her beauty. It was extremely long and brown has been compared to running brown water and had also been said to be more beautiful than any queen’s jewels. In cutting her hair, she is waiting restlessly for Jim to come home from work. When he arrives home, Della does not know what Jim’s reaction will be she thinks to herself will he still love her? Will he like his gift she gave up her most prized possession she sold to get the gift? Will he not want to be with her anymore? Once Jim sees Della he is quite shocked at first but after he takes in the fact that she went through so much to get him that gift Jim tells Della that he will love her no matter what she does with her hair. “Nothing like a haircut could make me love you any less.”
In conclusion, Della and Mathilde are women of poor conditions and poverty challenged them in how they dealt with money and love. Both characters demonstrated that in the same conditions you can have different situations and outcomes, which is determined by one’s outlook on life. As we have seen poverty wasn’t just the having no money, for Della things would have been worse if she lost her husband’s love for her; while Mathilde her worst point was feeling unworthy and not being able to live the best life she felt she deserved.
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