Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In this cruel tale about ridiculous social pretensions, the main characters obviously get the fate they deserve. This is the world of the Parisian lower middle class, but it could well serve as an allegory for French society as a whole, or at least those elements of French society where ambition, materialism, greed, and petty meanness are the main dynamic. Mathilde bears a striking resemblance to Madame Bovary. Both feel trapped in a provincially dull existence, made worse by the solid mediocrity of their husbands. Both long for deliverance, but the deliverance that only money can buy. The party attended by the Loisels at the town house of the minister is not unlike the soiree that the Bovarys attend at the chateau of the count. Even the descriptions of the opulence of both settings seems interchangeable.
Both heroines pay a terrible price for their inability to come to terms with their situation in life. In the case of Emma Bovary, the cost is her own life, ended by suicide; with Mathilde Loisel, the torture is more prolonged. She has thrown away her youth and will have to live with her misery for the rest of her life. The grand party whose pleasant memory has sustained her even while she has been drudging to pay off her enormous debt now becomes a hideous nightmare.
This, in one way or another, is the price to be paid for crass materialism and false pride. Had the characters been less superficial and been willing to admit the loss of the...
(The entire section is 381 words.)
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Appearances and Reality
In his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn," John Keats pronounced that "beauty is truth, truth beauty." While subsequent generations have appreciated this Romantic assertion, Maupassant's story aptly demonstrates that it is not always correct. Madame Loisel is beautiful, but she is not content. She has the appearance of beauty but not the reality (or truth) of beauty. She is pretty and charming, but she is also unhappy with her lot in life and believes that she deserves more. Living modestly with her husband before the ball, Madame Loisel believes she is suffering a terrible injustice by having few luxuries. In fact, she does not experience the reality of poverty until she and her husband go into debt to pay off the necklace. The necklace itself represents the theme of appearances versus reality. While sufficiently beautiful to make Madame Loisel feel comfortable during the ministerial ball, the necklace is actually nothing more than paste and gilt. Thus, it is not the reality of wealth or high social class that is important for Madame Loisel, just the appearance of it.
The theme of class conflict is closely tied to that of appearance and reality. The Loisels are members of the lower bourgeoisie, a class that stands above tradesmen and laborers (and above Madame Loisel's artisan family) but significantly below the class that...
(The entire section is 624 words.)