The Jewelry (or The False Gems)

by Guy de Maupassant

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Explain the symbolism in the story "The Jewelry" by Guy de Maupassant.

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On the one hand, the symbolism of jewelry seems to be the opposite of the symbolism of the woman with whom Monsieur Lantin falls in love. When he first sees her at a party, she

seemed the perfect example of the virtuous woman to whom every sensible young man dreams of entrusting his life. Her simple beauty had a modest, angelic charm and the imperceptible smile which always hovered about her lips seemed to be a reflection of her heart.

She seems like everything good and wonderful that one could ever hope for in a wife. When she dies, he cannot seem to figure out how it is that she kept their household running on his income. He runs short of money and tries to sell one of her necklaces; this is when he learns that her jewels are, in fact, real rather than paste. In short, the jewels are deceptively real while the wife was deceptively false.

However, I think there's another way to view the symbolism. She seemed "poor and decent, quiet and gentle" when Monsieur Lantin met her, just as her jewels seemed poor but decent to him during her lifetime. Later, he learns that the jewels are real and that his wife had, evidently, been getting money and expensive gifts from someone else but had been using that money to keep their home nice and to make him happy. It is possible to view what she did as an act of love—she must have loved her husband, though he could not provide for her materially in the way that she would have liked. So, she took it upon herself to find other financial support which she then used to make their life together so much nicer than it would otherwise have been. In this sense, then, the symbolism of the jewels matches the symbolism of the woman.

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The symbolism of this story ultimately revolves around the jewelry owned by Lantin's wife (jewelry he believes to be fake, only to learn otherwise later on in the story).

Ultimately, the symbolism of the jewelry is symbolic of the relationship between Lantin and his wife, shaped as it is by deceptions Lantin himself is unaware of. From a certain perspective, one might say that there is an inverse relationship between the two: Lantin assumes that the jewelry is false while his wife is faithful, but in reality, the jewelry itself is entirely real, and it is his wife who has been deceptive. In discovering the truth about his wife's jewelry after her death, Latin also discovers the truth of her infidelities (and with it, the truth of his own ignorance concerning the reality of their marriage). The two are very closely linked. The one stands for the other.

At the same time, I think there might be a larger social criticism at play (much in keeping with Maupassant's more famous short story "The Necklace"). In both stories, falsehood and high society are juxtaposed with one another. One sees two major symbols through which this juxtaposition plays out: first with the jewelry (worth a fortune, as we will later learn) but also with the theater. However, again and again, the theme of falsehood repeats: with the jewelry, with his wife's unfaithfulness, and finally, with Lantin himself, who will falsely claim to have gained his fortune through inheritance. From this perspective, all of these various falsehoods add up to symbolize those still larger falsehoods ingrained within society itself.

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It’s easy to see the jewels in the story as symbolic of a betrayal of trust. The wife, who had been the mistress of a wealthy man for some time, clearly had been too subtle for her husband; her “fake” jewels, which he only realizes after her death are worth thousands, are evidence of both her duplicity and his gullibility. No wonder it is such a shock for him!

Maupassant might be trying to get at something else, though, because it is also true that the man was happiest when he was ignorant of his wife’s affair. Considered this way, the jewels might represent the ambivalent nature of truth. For example, it is ironic that the “fake” jewels – jewels that pretend to be real – are in fact real jewels pretending to be fakes. Arguably he would have been better off not knowing the “truth” of the jewels or of his wife.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is not much evidence in the story that his wife was unhappy with her husband, either, adding a further ambiguity. It’s entirely possible that she was happiest when she was able to pretend with her husband that the jewels were fake, and that she had been faithful. In this way, the ambiguous nature of the jewels might represent the wife’s own divided feelings.

This move also goes double for Maupassant’s narrative strategy. Maupassant’s narrator is not exactly reliable, since he too is participating in a deception – he does not reveal the truth about the jewelry until the end of the story, so in effect the reader experiences the same twist and disappointment as the man. Considered this way, the jewels might represent unreliable nature of narration itself.

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In the short story, “The Jewelry” by Guy de Maupassant the wife’s jewels are symbolic of the couple’s married life. Unbeknownst to Monsieur Lantin the marriage was a lie. He thought the couple had a wonderful, loving marriage; the real thing. He finds out otherwise. His wife was living a lie making her husband believe that she was a virtuous, frugal wife with a penchant for costume jewelry and going to the theater, which were not things he enjoyed. In reality, she had a patron who was keeping her well provided for with gifts of real jewelry and items that provided for a luxurious life. After her early death, Monsieur Lantin’s life quickly unravels. When he takes one of the necklaces to a jeweler, he is shocked to find out that the jewels are real. He realizes how his wife has been able to keep them in a life of luxury in spite of his average salary. He sells the jewels and becomes a wealthy man. He lives the life of a wealthy man thinking it would bring him happiness. When he marries for a second time, his wife is truly a virtuous woman who has a questionable temper.

It was the jewels and another man that brought his first wife great pleasure, not him. The marriage was a sham.

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