The reference to the “Rue des Martyrs” – that is, to the “street of Martyrs” – one of the subtle ironies of Guy de Maussant’s “The Necklace,” a very ironic story.
In the story, Mrs. Loisel has borrowed an apparently valuable necklace so that she will seem suitably dressed when she and her relatively poor husband attend a glitzy party to which they have unexpectedly been invited. After the party is over, they return to their drab dwelling:
They went down toward the Seine, disgusted, shivering. Finally, they found on the Quai one of those old night-hawk cabs which one sees in Paris only after night has fallen, as though they are ashamed of their misery in the daytime.
It brought them to their door, rue des Martyrs; and they went up their own stairs sadly. For her it [that is, the joy of the party] was finished. And he was thinking that he would have to be at the Ministry [to go to work]at ten o’clock.
The reference to the street of Martyrs is a touch of ironic foreshadowing. Martyrs were persons who were willing to suffer and die for their religious faith (particularly Christianity). The fact that Paris has a street named after martyrs suggests the high regard in which martyrs were held in French Christian society of the nineteenth century and earlier. Martyrs were willing to endure pain and even to die in order to remain faithful to a creed that teaches the importance of spiritual values and non-material goods. Mrs. Loisel and her husband, however, seem far less spiritual and far more materialistic in their values and ambitions than were the great Christian martyrs. The fact that they later endure lives of suffering and deprivation because they assume that they have lost a highly valuable necklace they had borrowed – a necklace that turns out to have very little value at all – is one facet of the general irony of this tale.
The reference to the street is brief and subtle; only when one re-reads the story does one understand its true ironic resonance. The fact that Maupassant included this detail implies the skill with which his stories were designed and the delight he must have taken in crafting them. The reference to the street contributes to the artistic unity of the text; it is a small part of the larger design, but it fits very effectively into the larger structure of the story. Just as Maupassant often wrote stories in which the true significance of the plot is not revealed until the very end (as happens here in “The Necklace”), so he also often included in those stories small details whose full significance does not become clear until after the story is read for a second time. On first reading, the reference to the “street of Martyrs” may seem simply a small bit of realism, perhaps just a way of suggesting the already dreary lives of the Loisels; on second reading, however, the reference takes on greater symbolic significance.