Once there was a little girl whose name is Cinderella…
Millions of pretty girls all over the world have ever read passionately this fairy tale and must have dreamed of having a fortune as that poor girl had in the story. The pursuit of happiness is quite a righteous aspiration of any person, male or female. But on what criteria should happiness be defined and how can one gain a really happy life? That’s the question! Is vanity a true value of life for which we may have to pay a high cost? It’s the main idea that Guy de Maupassant wanted to address in this short story, “The Necklace.”
It’s also the dominant element on which the author created the main character, the conflict and other relevant elements.
Mathilde Loisel is a beautiful woman who had “no mean of getting known, understood and loved. She let herself be married off to a little clerk in the Ministry of Education.” She perceived her beauty as well as her poverty. After a ball, she lost the necklace borrowed from a wealthy friend. The poor couple, ignoring that the ornament is only a counterfeit one, had to loan money to buy a duplicated expensive one to return to their friend. In the ten following years, they had to suffer an extremely poverty and hard work to pay off the debt. Through the omniscient point of view, Guy de Maupassant presented directly a dynamic character and revealed in full details the characteristics of a pretty young lady who was always obsessed with the vanity cause. Not only Mathilde Loisel but also almost every pretty woman has the same meditation, as they perceive their conditions. It’s so common and natural that women are likely to dream of a happy marriage and a luxury life as men dream of pretty women and power.
Cinderella dropped a shoe on her way hurrying home, and then her dream came true. Poor Mathilde dropped her necklace then she faced a ghastly life of abject poverty. From then on, she changed, both physically and spiritually. “Her hair was badly done, her skirts were awry, her hands were red. She spoke in a shrill voice.” She looked much older and of course less beautiful since she became like other women of poor households. Thanked to her courage and virtue, she suffered the harsh time with dignity. From the very first, she played her part heroically. She no longer dreamed of anything else but work. “But sometime, she sat down by the window and though of that evening long ago, of the ball at which she had been so beautiful and so much admired.” That is the time she understood that the true value of life was not based on vanity but on the proper attitude toward the limited conditions one had to live in. Happiness turns out to be the satisfaction with whatever we gain by our efforts and ability. The price she had to pay for her dream was rather high, but we know that many women in real world have to pay much higher. They may only find misfortune for the rest of their lives. The contradiction of poverty and richness created the main conflict within Mathilde’s psychology. In the beginning of the story, “she suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from poverty of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs and ugly curtain.” She was consistently tormented and insulted by material needs. With this wrong way of thinking, she would have never felt happy even if she got the things she wanted. Mathilde is only a pitiful woman who let herself be excessively haunted by the vanity cause. “She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And there were the only things she loved, she felt that she was made for them.” Ah! Here we find her weak point to criticize. She didn’t discern the difference between the need for material things and the real value of life. Ornaments can only make a woman more attractive, but her beauty and dignity themselves give her true value. Although the conflict is also a significant element of the story, it doesn’t come to a climax but is gradually resolved. At the end of the story, she “smiled in proud and innocent happiness.” Now she was proud of her true value, which she realized during a long time dealing with misfortune. She finally overcame all difficulties and became more virtuous. She finally won over her illusion of vanity. Now she was more content with her condition than ever before. The temptation of material things and the desire to vanity are not rare in quotidian life. Therefore, the setting is not necessary to contribute a specific meaning of the story. To Mathilde or to Mary, to Jane, or else women, to a black or white, the story would be the same no matter when or where it may happen. Only the resolutions vary in different ways depending on the circumstances and the moral consciousness of the characters.
Maupassant in this story offered a humanitarian and moralistic resolution in order to protect and glorify the woman’s dignity. Most of Maupassant’s short stories were written in a simple and concise style. To describe Mathilde’s characteristics, he was likely to use a frequent reference to her feelings. “She suffered… she suffered… she imagined… she imagined… she imagined… she loved… she loved… she felt…. She had longed. She would weep whole days with grief, regret, despair, and misery.” The counterfeit necklace is considered a symbol of a false value that may seriously influence any people. It also symbolizes the nature of the protagonist. That he reversed the last sentences to reveal the false value of the necklace created a specific tone: “It was worth at the very most five hundred francs!” This is truly an unexpected revelation to both the Loisels and the readers; through which we feel sorry for Mathilde and also learn a valuable lesson about life and illusion.