How can we look at "The Necklace" from a feminist perspective? What does it say about women?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A feminist critique of "The Necklace" would argue that Madame Loisel is the victim of a patriarchal society. Because she is a woman, her life is controlled by men and she lacks the ability to do anything other than be the dutiful wife of a middle-class clerk. French society at the time was decidedly hierarchical, and women of Madame Loisel's background languished toward the bottom of that hierarchy. Because of her plight, she becomes bored and yearns for something else in her life. She dreams of being wealthy and living a life of luxury. For Madame Loisel, it is essential that she escape her mundane existence. Controlled by her husband, she is at the mercy of his decisions. To his credit, Monsieur Loisel is a caring husband who recognizes his wife's unhappiness, so he secures tickets to a fancy ball being held at the "Ministerial Mansion." Loisel hopes this night out will help ease his wife's melancholy.

In her groundbreaking contribution to feminist theory, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan posits that women such as Madame Loisel (Friedan deals with American suburban housewives) suffer from what Friedan labeled "housewives syndrome." Women afflicted with this "syndrome" aspire to something more in their lives and feel stifled by the monotony of their current situations. Therefore, it could be argued that Madame Loisel viewed her attendance at the fancy ball as a turning point in her life. For once, she was dazzling and exciting. All the men wanted to dance with her. This one-time experience as the life of the party clashed with her otherwise ordinary life trapped in her comfortable home as a clerk's wife.

When the party is over and her husband brings her shabby coat to cover her shoulders, Madame Loisel recoils and flees the scene. This is when she loses the necklace. From a feminist point of view, it might be argued that Madame Loisel was purposefully careless with the necklace because she could not accept a return to the tedious normalcy of her previous life. Her loss of the necklace is an expensive rebellion against that life. Faced with her new situation, Madame Loisel actually rises to the occasion. She seems to experience an epiphany in her new life as a poverty-stricken woman striving to makes ends meet for her and her husband. De Maupassant writes,

Mme. Loisel experienced the horrible life the needy live. She played her part, however, with sudden heroism. The frightful debt had to be paid. She would pay it.

Ironically, it takes the loss of everything to bring out the best in Madame Loisel. In the end, she is proud of her accomplishments in paying back the debt, and this simple pride leads her to speak to Madame Forestier. That the necklace was fake seems only a whim of chance and ultimately only the vehicle which led Madame Loisel to discover a genuine existence in her struggles to meet the goal of paying back the debt.

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The Necklace

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