Discuss literary elements in "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Necklace" by the great French story teller, Guy de Maupassant, delights the readers with its surprise ending much like O. Henry's twists.  Circulating around the idea of "I can't believe that I lost it,' every person can identify with the heroine of the story. 

The story's setting is  Paris in the 19th century. The story's main character could be a star on "Desperate Housewives."  Mathilde Loisel, the protagonist, spends her day,  dreaming about a fantasy life.  Described as a beautiful, young woman, Mathilde finds herself married to civil servant who does not make enough to keep her in the style of life that she feels that she deserves. Despite the fact that she has a servant, the heroine does not appreciate what she has in life.  Her husband, a long-suffering, loving man, receives little appreciation for his hard work and efforts to satisfy Mathilde.

The conflict in the story comes from Mathilde herself and her unhappy place in society.   Mathilde is her own worst enemy.  Unsatisfied in her life, she searches for something that she thinks will make her happier.  Unfortunately, her character never really understands why fate has played this trick on her. 

The action of the story begins to rise as Mathilde borrows the necklace to complete her ensemble for the ball. The first half of the story's climax occurs when she discovers that she has lost the necklace. Now, the story gets interesting.

Mathilde has two choices: tell the truth to the owner or lie and suffer the consequences.  Of course, the reader learns quickly that Mathilde and her husband choose the latter.  After buying the copy of the necklace for a large amount of money, the couple have no choice but to work to pay off the debts incurred by their poor decision. 

Mme. Loisel experienced the horrible life the needy live. She played her part, however, with sudden heroism. That frightful debt had to be paid. She would pay it. She dismissed her maid; they rented a garret under the eaves.

A new twist in the story brings in the moral dilemma of choosing to do the right thing. The couple does work for ten years to pay off the debt. The question becomes:  Was it because of pride or honor that Mathilde willingly works so hard that she loses everything that had been so important to her before the necklace? The reader must choose whether Mathilde's vanity or her sense of honor pushed her forward through those terrible years. 

Symbolism circulates around the lost necklace.  It represents the beauty of Madame Loisel. When she loses the necklace, over the course of time, her beauty is lost as well.  Mathilde was consumed by wealth.  Through that ten year period, the couple works hard to gain the money to pay off their debts. The story in essence becomes then she loses the borrowed, diamond necklace, gets cast into poverty, and learns what it really means to live without money.

The denouement of the story occurs when Mathilde meets Mme. Forestier on the street.  The Loisels have finished paying off their debts for the necklace. All that remains is for Mathilde to see if her friend ever noticed the substitute necklace.  She then will tell her the sad story of the their hard life. When Mathilde learns of the worthless necklace, the resolution of the story comes for the reader.

Hopefully, Madame Loisel will do the right thing and return the necklace to Mathilde so that the she can get some money for it. Human nature does not bode well for this conclusion.