Is "The False Gems" a story that reveals much about human behavior?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is told entirely from the point of view of Monsieur Lantin and seems intended to reveal something about human nature as represented by this character. He is astonished when he finds out that the heavy necklace which he thought was only junk jewelry is worth as much as eighteen thousand francs. He had only hoped to raise six or seven francs for it. Maupassant gives modern readers a good way of conceptualizing the buying power of Lantin's horde of jewelry with a brief paragraph early in the story.

Monsieur Lantin, then chief clerk in the Department of the Interior, enjoyed a snug little salary of three thousand five hundred francs, and he proposed to this model young girl, and was accepted.

Lantin was earning three thousand five hundred francs a year, and he was not a mere clerk but a chief clerk. It would take him at least four years to earn the price of that one necklace. Maupassant had a cynical view of human nature. In some stories the reader might expect to see Monsieur Lantin take the entire collection of jewelry down to a bridge and throw them into the Seine--perhaps even throw himself into the river too. Not only that, but he might be expected to find out who had been buying all these presents for his wife and challenge him to a duel.

Instead, Lantin accepts eighteen thousand francs for the necklace and sells the rest of his trove to the same jeweler for an additional one hundred and forty-three thousand francs. All of a sudden his salary of thirty-five hundred francs per year seems ridiculously petty. He could easily find out the name of the man who had given the jewelry to his deceased wife. It was obvious that they had all been bought at the same store by the same man. But Lantin doesn't want to know and makes no effort to find out.

The point of the story seems to be that most men would behave like Monsieur Lantin under the same circumstances. Money talks! Lantin undergoes a dramatic change of character when he recovers from his shock and sorrow at the discovery that his wife had been unfaithful. The transition is suggested in the following brief lines:

Men of leisure were strolling about with their hands in their pockets. Monsieur Lantin, observing them, said to himself: “The rich, indeed, are happy. With money it is possible to forget even the deepest sorrow. One can go where one pleases, and in travel find that distraction which is the surest cure for grief. Oh if I were only rich!”

He really is rich but hasn't yet accepted the rike. All he has to do is to go back to that jewelry store with the "false" gems he inherited. It will entail a certain amount of embarrassment, but he adapts to the role of a rich man very quickly. How many other rich men have secrets like his--or worse?