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Pride, Vanity and Irony in Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace

French short story writer Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) was best known for portraying everyday life in terms of ordinary encounters with ironic twists of fate. He provides the reader with important points that are hidden in seemingly mundane details (Rosow, 130). As a result, De Maupassant comes up with simple stories that shed light on forgotten truths. His works likewise show that it is the ordinary decisions people make that reveal their real nature the most.

In his short story The Necklace (1885), De Maupassant used the occurrences of borrowing and losing a very expensive necklace to show the detrimental effects of pride and vanity. The story’s main character, Madame Loisel, was a poor but beautiful and ambitious young woman who was desperate to join the ranks of the elite. As she wanted to look stunning for a ball, she borrowed from her friend Madame Forestier a diamond necklace. Unfortunately, Madame Loisel lost the necklace while she and her husband were coming home from the ball (Smith, 210).

Madame Loisel and her husband incurred huge debts just to replace Madame Forestier’s necklace. It took the couple ten years of hard work to pay off their liabilities. Towards the end of the story, however, it is revealed that the Loisels paid a debt that did not really exist to begin with (Smith, 211). The necklace that Madame Loisel lost was actually made of paste and not worth more than 500 francs (De Maupassant, 38). Madame Loisel lived in 19th-century France, a period when gender and social class defined a person’s identity. It would be fair to say, therefore, that she had an extremely marginalized social position.

Madame Loisel was not only a woman – she was a lower-middle class woman. She did not possess material wealth that could offer her some semblance of respectability. The only commonalities that Madame Loisel had with her more affluent – but equally marginalized – counterparts were her beauty, charm and elegance: She was simple, not being able to adorn herself; but she was unhappy, as one out of her class; for women belong to no caste, no race: their grace, their beauty, and their charm serving them in the place of birth and family.

Their inborn finesse, their instinctive elegance, their suppleness of wit are their only aristocracy, making some daughters of the people the equal of great ladies. (31) Consequently, Madame Loisel developed a false sense of entitlement. This erroneous feeling of prerogative, in turn, led her to become vain and arrogant. Madame Loisel must have thought that if she was as pretty, as charming and as elegant as rich women were, then she was not supposed to live in penury. Given her good qualities, she herself was also probably “born for all delicacies and luxuries” (De Maupassant, 31).

Such self-pity was not without negative effects on Madame Loisel’s personality, as well as on her relationship with her husband. She spent her days dreaming of a home filled with closets of fine dresses and jewels, expensive furniture, rich banquets and servants. In the process, Madame Loisel became increasingly discontented with what her husband could give her – a small apartment with ordinary furnishings and a maid. Instead of being thankful for blessings such as food on the table, a house and a husband with a good job, she harbored “regret…despair and disappointment” (De Maupassant, 32).

All Madame Loisel ever thought of was that she deserved “to please, to be sought after, to be clever, and courted” (De Maupassant, 32). Her husband must have sensed her unhappiness, as he gave her one evening an invitation to Monsieur and Madame Ramponneau’s ball. But instead of being happy and thanking her husband, Madame Loisel “threw the invitation spitefully upon the table” (De Maupassant, 32). She wanted to go to the ball wearing a new dress with matching accessories – her theater gown will just not do.

To appease his wife, Monsieur Loisel gave her the 400 francs that he saved up so that he can buy himself a hunting gun. As her husband can no longer afford to buy her accessories, Madame Loisel borrowed a diamond necklace from Madame Forestier. Madame Loisel’s determination to look her best at Monsieur and Madame Ramponneau’s ball was the most obvious manifestation of her false pride and vanity. She probably felt that the ball was her only chance to mingle with the Parisian elite – she must therefore not waste it. Madame Loisel’s efforts appeared to have not gone in vain.

She was “the prettiest of all…All the men noticed her, asked her name and wanted to be presented…and to waltz with her” (De Maupassant, 34). Madame Loisel enjoyed herself so much that she left the ball with her husband at four in the morning (De Maupassant, 34). The end of Monsieur and Madame Ramponneau’s ball sent Madame Loisel back to reality. On their way home, she and her husband wore “modest (wraps) of everyday wear” and rode an “old, nocturnal coupes that (are seen) in Paris after nightfall” (De Maupassant 35).

But Madame Loisel encountered a worse situation upon arriving home – the necklace that she borrowed from Madame Forestier was missing. And neither she nor her husband had any means of replacing it. Madame Loisel could have spared herself and her husband ten years of needless drudgery had she been honest and immediately admitted to Madame Forestier that she had lost her necklace. But because Madame Loisel was too proud to admit her mistake, as well as the fact that she cannot afford to replace the necklace, she plunged herself and her husband into grave misfortune.

Thus, Madame Forestier’s revelation that the missing necklace was actually false created two ironies. The first was that wealthy people appreciate inexpensive things, as long as these are of immense personal value to them. The second was that Madame Loisel’s dreams of wealth and comfort – ambitions which are not inherently wrong to begin with – are the ones that brought her and her husband into misery. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to have a better life. However, it must be kept in mind that material wealth is not everything.

Money can indeed make life comfortable, but it cannot buy a person respect, genuine friendship or a loving partner. When desired for the wrong reasons, material wealth can spell an individual’s downfall. Works Cited De Maupassant, Guy. The Necklace and Other Short Stories. Pittsburgh: Courier Dover Publications, 1992. Rosow, La Vergne. Accessing the Classics: Great Reads for Adults, Teens and English Language Learners. Westport: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. Smith, C. Alphonso. Short Stories Old and New. Charleston: BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2007.

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