“The Necklace” was written in 1884, during the Realist Period which spanned from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. The Industrial Revolution had changed the landscape of western civilization. Technological developments such as the cotton gin, inspired farm workers to move to more urban areas looking for better jobs. Over-crowding in cities and poor working environments provided ample material for Realist artists and writers who concentrated on displaying the reality of individual life, particularly the common man who was most affected by these changes. Increasing literacy rates made literature more popular and also more influential.
“The Necklace” tells the story of Mathilde, a malcontent housewife who imagines herself deserving of more prosperity and societal influence. “She suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries” (Maupassant, 1880). She receives an invitation to a ball and must have a new ball gown and borrows jewels from a friend. Unsurprisingly, the necklace is lost and, rather than explain the mishap to her friend, Mathilde convinces her husband to borrow a significant amount of money to purchase a replacement. They then spend ten years working in a deprivation that she had not experienced before. At the end of ten years, Mathilde is haggard and defeated. She runs into her friend who wonders at her appearance. Mathilde explains the whole ordeal to which the friend exclaims, “Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste. It was worth at most 500 francs!” (Maupassant, 1880)
The overarching theme is that of dissatisfaction and the dangers inherent in false self-fashioning. It is a true to life cautionary tale that still applies today. Ironically, in Mathilde’s desire to “prove herself worthy” she loses what little she has and finds herself worse off. The piece explores the differences between classes in a style accessible to a broad audience. The implied warning is, be satisfied with what you have and be honest about your station in life. This demonstrates the period’s preoccupation with social class disparity and the increasing interest in character development.
Guy de Maupassant was a prolific writer of short stories, novels, and verse. His first published story, “Boule de Suif”, (1880) is considered one of his greatest works. One of his most important contributions to the Humanities is as one of the originators of the modern short story genre. “Literary theorist, Kornelije Kvas wrote that, ‘along with Chekhov, Maupassant is the greatest master of the short story in world literature’” (“Kvas, 2019). Maupassant was heavily influenced by the dawn of psychology and his works explored the human mindset and condition, often portraying them grimly.
- Maupassant, G. (1880) The necklace. Retrieved from: http://www.isd518.net/webstes/isd518/files/Content/3804973/GUY_DE_MAUPASSANT.pdf
- Kvas, K. The boundaries of realism in world literature. Lanham, Boulder, New York, London: Lexington Books. p 131. ISBN 978-1-7936-0910-6