Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant simply named Guy de Maupassant has written over two hundred short-stories, six novels, verse books, travel books, etc. He is known for an apparent pessimism in his stories which are real and close to life.
He wrote during the times of political unrest and portrayed the fickle attitude of human life. In the story, The Necklace, he is trying to reveal the hollowness of society and the pretentiousness of the middle class trying to fit in.
The Story at a Glance
The Necklace begins with the protagonist, Matilda who is a beautiful, middle-class girl, born into the family of a clerk. Owing to her beauty, she was always in a dilemma of marrying into a rich family and living a life full of roses.
Due to her own inhibitions, however, she ends up marrying a clerk who earns a good salary but not enough to meet Matilda’s pretence of being rich, her needs and keep herself in the illusion of happiness which can only be derived from material possessions.
She continues to live uncontended and daydreams about all the rich suitors she had who were ready to marry her but she settled for less. One day, her husband Mr. Loisel returns home with an invitation for an office ball dance. He was hoping for her wife to be exalted about it but seeing her weep over the news, he is taken aback.
His wife was concerned about not having anything appropriate to wear- neither pretty dresses nor charming ornaments. Together, they come up with a solution for this problem by buying a ball gown for Matilda and borrowing the jewellery from one of her rich friends, Madame Forestier. Mr. Loisel is a gentleman and a caring husband, although this is missed by Matilda who only understands money. Matilda decks herself in a gorgeous diamond necklace and a beautiful dress which accentuates her features.
At the party, she is the center of attention and everyone is interested in a rendezvous with her. When the time to leave arrives, Matilda wants to be out of everyone’s sight so that nobody sees her wrapping an old shawl instead of furs like other affluent ladies were. In a hurry, the couple doesn’t wait for their host to hail a carriage for them and they leave on foot.
At home, to her horror, she finds the diamond necklace missing from her neck. The couple ransacks the house, trace their steps from the party till their home in the chilly winter night, in a futile effort. The next day, they visit a jewellery shop, buy a similar looking diamond necklace by paying 36,000 Francs (their life-savings and a loan).
The life Matilda now realises had been full of comfort. To pay off their debts, Mr. Loisel worked overtime and part-time at several ventures while Matilda like common people dispels her maid and does all household chores from washing the linen, mopping the floor, carrying out the refuse, etc on her own.
After a decade of hardships, Matilda notices Madame Forestier near the Champs-Elysees. She goes to her proudly, to confess her honesty. Due to her outer beauty now turned to a rustic appearance, Madame Forestier doesn’t recognise her. She is more shocked to hear the reason behind Matilda’s agony.
In an ironic turn of events, Matilda is told by Madame Forestier that the necklace she borrowed from her was an artificial one, worth less than 5,000 Francs. Matilda, doomed to live a life she never dreamt of, is left with a pensive look and thinks of the years wasted away in unhappiness, all for nothing.
Why should we read this story?
The story unfurls as a scene taken from life itself. Anton Chekhov exposes the extremism and entrapment of one’s morals when it comes to acquiring riches.
Matilda is away from her reality. She fails to see the bliss of her life where she lives comfortably and is married to a loving husband. Her husband on the other hand is unable to be honest with her about their humble living and succumbs to the thought of celebrating one night of luxury.
The couple is disillusioned and juxtaposes happiness with luxury. Given the correct circumstance, they both are unable to resist the temptation and pay for it for a large part of their life.
Even today, people are prone to pretension. Decorating and maintaining our house is necessary but doing it to impress the guests is a hollow gesture. We still seek validation from what we have in money, antiques, fashionable clothing, etc.
This story is necessary so that we learn to appreciate what we have and differentiate between our wants and needs and not allowing the former to get the best of us.