The Necklace Questions and Answers
by Guy de Maupassant

The Necklace book cover
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In the story "The Necklace," what is the atmosphere or tone?

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Guy de Maupassant creates the atmosphere or tone of ironic pessimism in his short story “The Necklace.”

Through the third person omniscient narrator, the reader is introduced to the proud, young woman, Mathilde, who feels she deserves better than her past circumstances.

She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as though fate had blundered over her, into a family of artisans.

Although she came from humble beginnings, she longs for the finer things in life so much so that she allows her inability to tell the truth to destroy her youth and much of her married life. The narrator describes how Madame Loisel “suffered” dearly through her want for the finer things in life.  

Throughout the story, the tone remains the same as Madame Loisel complains about all aspects of her life. Even when her husband secures a ticket to a coveted event, she protests that she has nothing to wear, which quickly dampens her husband’s spirits. He attempts to remain optimistic and suggests she seek proper jewelry from her friend, which ultimately leads to a life of hardship. Mathilde loses the necklace after attending the event but instead of telling her friend the truth, she and her husband go into great debt to replace the necklace.

Madame Loisel came to know the ghastly life of abject poverty. From the very first she played her part heroically. This fearful debt must be paid off. She would pay it. The servant was dismissed. They changed their flat; they took a garret under the roof.

The author uses words such as "agonizing," "black misery," "physical privation," and "moral torture" to emphasize the pessimism surrounding their existence in the story.

He mortgaged the whole remaining years of his existence, risked his signature without even knowing if he could honour it, and, appalled at the agonising face of the future, at the black misery about to fall upon him, at the prospect of every possible physical privation and moral torture, he went to get the new necklace and put down upon the jeweller's counter thirty-six thousand francs.

Unbeknownst to them, the necklace was an imitation, which was revealed when Mathilde met her friend many years later. By then, she and her husband moved into a drab apartment, and Mathilde lost her looks and ambition from years of hard work to pay for the necklace. She was a bitter, pessimistic woman from her years of drudgery.

The story opens with the narrator telling the reader Mathilde was a girl of good looks and ends with her friend not recognizing her because those looks were gone. This along with the necklace being an imitation create the irony while the plot of the story creates the pessimism.

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