How is verbal, dramatic, and situational irony expressed in Guy de Maupassant's story "The Necklace"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When his wife complains that she cannot attend the party because she has nothing to wear, Monsieur Loisel asks her,

How much would it cost, a suitable dress...?

The situational irony here is that it will cost the couple a great deal, and not just in money . Mathilde will...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

When his wife complains that she cannot attend the party because she has nothing to wear, Monsieur Loisel asks her,

How much would it cost, a suitable dress...?

The situational irony here is that it will cost the couple a great deal, and not just in money. Mathilde will have to sacrifice her pride, her beauty, and years of her life as a result of making this purchase to attend the party. Monsieur Loisel is likely also considering the fact that he has been saving up money for a gun and a hunting trip for himself the following summer; therefore, his wife's purchase will not only cost him the four hundred francs but also his dreams of a hunting getaway.

Mathilde is so concerned with appearances that a new dress worth 400 francs is not enough to placate her desire to impress "rich" women. Thus, she enlists the help of her friend Madame Forestier in obtaining a necklace which she believes further illuminates a wealthier lifestyle than she actually lives. Ironically, this act of borrowing her friend's (fake) jewels leads to the physical devastation of Mathilde as she works endlessly to pay off the debt she acquires to purchase a replacement necklace:

Mme. Loisel looked old now. She had become the woman of impoverished households—strong and hard and rough. With frowsy hair, skirts askew, and red hands, she talked loud while washing the floor with great swishes of water.

Thus, Mathilde's youthful beauty is lost because she chases superficial beauty.

Mathilde must return her friend's necklace a few days later than expected; she and her husband first spend some time negotiating the price for the new diamond necklace. Thus, when she appears at Madame Forestier's, her friend accosts her for the delay, saying she could have needed it herself. In an example of dramatic irony, he accepts her necklace as the original, while Mathilde and the reader are aware that this is a replacement. She doesn't open the case to inspect it; of course, if she had looked at it closely, she may have noticed that Mathilde replaced the original, and she could have spared her friend the next ten years of hard labor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Situational irony occurs in Guy De Maupassant's short story "The Necklace" when Mathilde Loisel discovers that she worked endlessly and sacrificed for ten years to pay for an inexpensive imitation necklace. Mathilde Loisel had initially thought Madame Forestier's imitation necklace was made from real diamonds and panicked after losing it. Instead of informing Madame Forestier that she lost her necklace, Mathilde Loisel and her husband sacrifice everything to purchase a new, genuine necklace, which is extremely expensive. Ironically, it turns out that Madame Forestier's diamond necklace was simply an inexpensive imitation.

Dramatic irony occurs when Mathilde Loisel returns the necklace to Madame Forestier, who rebukes her for returning it late. Madame Forestier is unaware that the necklace Mathilde Loisel has returned is an entirely new, genuine diamond necklace. The audience knows that Mathilde Loisel and her husband have recently purchased a new diamond necklace to replace the first.

Verbal irony occurs when Mathilde begins to complain about not having anything to wear to the ball. Mathilde tells her husband, "Nothing. Only I have no dress, and therefore I can't go to this ball. Give your card to some colleague whose wife is better equipped than I" (Maupassant, 4). Mathilde does have clothes to wear and simply wants her husband to purchase her a new evening gown for the ball.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Necklace," a marvelous tale of the falsity of materialism as a value, Guy de Maupassant employs with perfection the incongruity between what is stated and what is really meant (verbal irony), or between what is expected to happen and what actually does happen (situational irony), or between what the reader and audience know, but the character does not (dramatic).

SITUATIONAL IRONY

In the exposition, Maupassant portrays the materialistic Mathilde Loisel,who grieves for herself because she feels that she has been born for "all the niceties and luxuries of life."  When her bourgeois husband, a government clerk, brings home an invitation, he expects Mathilde to be happy, but she is not.

In another instance of situational irony, Madame Loisel's dreams of a better life worsen because of her vanity and desire for material objects.   By insisting that she wear some pretty jewelry, Mme. Loisel is told by her husband to borrow from a friend. When she does borrow a beautiful necklace, Mme. Loisel loses it and this lost causes her untold grief.  So, in her quest for materialism, she is left with less than what she originally had as she and her husband pay dearly for her loss.  (She moves from bougeoisie to poverty.)

In yet another instance of situational irony, Mme. Loisel assumes that people of the upper class only value expensive things.  When she  first sees the necklace that she does borrow, Mme. Loisel asks

"hesitatingly, pleading, 'Could I borrow that, just that and nothing else?'"

because she believes that it is very costly. She cannot imagine that Mme. Forestier would have an inexpensive article simply because she likes it.  Ironically, of course the necklace is not expensive.

This situational irony leads to the final, most crucial situation irony.  At the end of the narrative, Mme. Loisel finally has lost her false pride which has kept her from telling Mme. Forestier that she has lost the jewelry lent to her and she approaches Mme. Forestier on the Champs-Elysees one Sunday.  When she confesses the loss and then boasts of having paid for it by working and sacrificing, Mme. Forestier looks at her with pity, saying,

Oh, my poor Mathilde.  But mine was only paste.  Why, at most it was worth only five hundred francs!"

VERBAL IRONY

Because she does not have what she believes is the proper attire, Madame Loisel tells her husband,

"Give the card to some friend at the office whose wife can dress better than I can."

Mme. Loisel, of course, hopes by saying this that her husband will offer to buy her a new dress. Then, as the day of the party nears, Mme. Loisel complains that she has nothing to wear on her dress:

"I'll look like a pauper:  I'd almost rather no go to that party."

Again, by saying this Mme. Loisel means that she wants some jewelry so she can go.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team