How does the setting in "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant influence the story, characters, and events?

The setting in "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant influences the story, characters, and events because the action takes place in the specific locale of Paris near the turn of the nineteenth century within a specific set of social circumstances. Mathilde covets the lifestyle of the wealthy class and deludes herself into believing she is entitled to their luxuries. Her dissatisfaction and ungratefulness cause her to lose the lifestyle she had but did not appreciate.

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Guy de Maupassant's short story The Necklace relates Mathilde Loisel’s dissatisfaction with her economic status in life. The story is set in Paris, France toward the end of the nineteenth century. Paris is a tourist destination where the residents range from poor to wealthy. Protagonist Mathilde and her husband Monsieur Loisel, “a minor official at the Ministry of Education,” live a modest life with “no expectations.” The setting of the story influences its plot, the life of the Loisel family, and the actions of the characters.

Mathilde was not born into the Parisian upper social class, but she is miserable because she believes she is entitled to the status and wealth of a rich member of her society:

She dressed plainly because she had never been able to afford anything better, but she was as unhappy as if she had once been wealthy. Women don't belong to a caste or class; their beauty, grace, and natural charm take the place of birth and family ...

She suffered endlessly, feeling she was entitled to all the delicacies and luxuries of life.

The setting of the story is extremely significant because she deludes herself into believing she is part of the social class of those wealthy people around her:

She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as if by an error of fate, into a family of clerks.

However, author de Maupassant skillfully shows his readers that the world the protagonist creates in her mind is nothing but an illusion. Torn between her feelings of entitlement and the reality of her circumstances in life, Mathilde is miserable and envious:

She had a rich friend, a former schoolmate at the convent, whom she no longer wanted to visit because she suffered so much when she came home. For whole days afterwards she would weep with sorrow, regret, despair and misery.

When Mathilde receives an unexpected invitation to a fancy ball, she recognizes her chance to jump into her world of fantasy for one night. Yet, she remains upset and unhappy, saying,

I'm upset that I have no jewels, not a single stone to wear. I will look cheap. I would almost rather not go to the party.

Monsieur Loisel suggests that she visit her wealthy friend Madame Forestier. She borrows “a superb diamond necklace” and in her mind, her life has now changed. Unfortunately, at the festivity, she loses the necklace and searches hysterically for it. After one week, she “lost all hope.” The Loisels are thrust into reality. The author uses the unreal setting Mathilde creates to demonstrate the falsity of her visions of wealth and prestige. The Loisels gather all their life savings and borrow sufficiently to purchase a substitute diamond necklace and return it to Madame Forestier, hoping she will not notice the switch.

Mathilde and her husband are now truly poor and spend the next ten years working hard to pay for the replacement necklace:

She came to know the drudgery of housework, the odious labors of the kitchen. She washed the dishes, staining her rosy nails on greasy pots and the bottoms of pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and the dishcloths, which she hung to dry on a line; she carried the garbage down to the street every morning, and carried up the water, stopping at each landing to catch her breath. And, dressed like a commoner, she went to the fruiterer's, the grocer's, the butcher's, her basket on her arm, bargaining, insulted, fighting over every miserable sou.

During the ten-year struggle, the protagonist loses her beauty and pride. Because of the setting into which she was born, covetousness became the essential focus of her life. Now, she lives in true poverty. She never realized how deceptive appearances can be while living a life of ungratefulness. The false illusion she created in her mind had been fed by the setting around her. Like her life, Mathilde has also changed. One day, by chance, she meets Madame Forestier on the streets of Paris. Madame Forestier does not recognize her. The protagonist relates the true story of the events caused by her delusion and covetousness, only to learn that the necklace she had borrowed was as fake as her illusory life.

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"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant takes place in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. The short story depicts the financial ruin of the Loisel family because of a lost necklace.

In fiction, the setting always provides important clues about literary elements like characters, plot, and theme. In a short story, setting is even more important, because it is crucial for the reader to use all of the information available to make inferences as quickly as possible.

Authors use time and place to create setting. "The Necklace" takes place at the end of the 1800s. In France, this was a period of prosperity, peace, and high fashion. Consumerism was on the rise, and even people of modest means aspired to join in the trends.

The characters live in Paris, the "City of Light" and capital of France. The Champs-Élysées lies seemingly just outside their door. It is no wonder that Mathilde Loisel, even though her husband is only an education clerk, is desperate to wear beautiful jewelry. She lives in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world at a time when beauty and taste are highly valued. The pressure to participate in the consumer economy also explains why Madame Forestier had a fake necklace in the first place. Even the wealthy of the time feel the need to "cheat the system" in order to keep up with the trends.

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The setting of Maupassant's "The Necklace" is crucial to understanding the author's themes and characterization.  Written and set in the the latter part of the 19th Century, Maupassant satirizes the materialism and desires of the French bourgeoisie.  Maupassant does not provide us with descriptive images of the story's setting--Paris.  We have very few details about place except for mention of the Champs Elysses.  However, we do have quite a few details about material objects, and these are important in establishing Mathilde Loisel's motivation.  Mathilde longs for the "delicacies and all the luxuries" of the upper class: Oriental tapestries, candelabras, "footmen in knee-breeches," "the warmth of the hot-air stove," "delicate furniture," "perfumed boudoirs."  Her own surroundings seem dull and mundane in contrast.  As she uncovers the soup-tureen for dinner with her husband, she longs for so much more. 

The discrepancy between what she has and what she desires provides the conflict in this story.  It is important to see, however, that Mathilde is not destitute.  In fact, she seems comfortably middle class, with a servant to do housework and a husband who clerks in the Ministry of Public Instruction.   Mathilde has more than necessary to make her comfortable.  But what she has does not satisfy her.  She overlooks the fact that her husband is kind and concerned about her, willing to sacrifice his own desires for a gun to make his wife happy. When they are invited to a ball, her husband gives her money to buy a "pretty dress,"  but even that is not enough.  Mathilde needs a jewel to go with the dress.  In this way, Maupassant mocks the consumerist society of the 19th Century.  The fact that Mathilde cannot distinguish between a real jewel and a fake one shows her superficiality and concern with appearances.  

Yet, we have to look a little more closely at the way Maupassant portrays the French in this time period.  When Mme. Loisel discovers that she lost the necklace that she borrowed from a wealthy friend, she finds out what she thinks is the cost, and she and her husband work ten years to pay off the debt incurred in replacing it.  Even though we don't like Mme. Loisel, we have to admire the fact that she takes responsibility for her negligence and is willing to do menial work to pay the debt. Here Maupassant uses quite a few details to describe the work that Mme. Loisel does--washing clothes, carrying slop, carrying water, bargaining with grocers and merchants.  These details provide us with a clear idea of what a debtor's life was like, and it is far from easy.  In this way, we have to have some respect for Mme. Loisel.  She does not go to her friend and apologize and beg for forgiveness.  Instead she and her husband sacrifice their health, youth, and well-being to fulfill their perceived obligation.  I wonder if people in today's society would be so honorable.  

So in looking at setting, look closely at the way the three distinct lifestyles are portrayed in the story--the middle class, the wealthy, and those in poverty.  

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