The Jewelry (or The False Gems)

by Guy de Maupassant

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The False Gems

What is moral in the short story "The False Gems"?

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The moral of Guy de Maupassant’s “The False Gems” (“Les Bijoux” in French, 1883) sharply questions the hypocrisy of its male protagonist, Monsieur Lantin. Lantin is passionately in love with his young wife, whom he sees as the embodiment of beauty and virtue. His wife is perfect in every aspect, except for her love of imitation jewelry and the theater. Being of a puritanical bent of mind, Lantin finds both of his wife’s interests showy and improper. Clearly, such interests do not fit his worldview of what a well-brought-up, modest woman should be enjoying. At one point he remonstrates her ostentatious tastes, saying:

My dear, as you cannot afford to buy real diamonds, you ought to appear adorned with your beauty and modesty alone, which are the rarest ornaments of your sex.

Clearly, it is not the fact that she wears jewelry which bothers Lantin, but the fact that these gems are false. Despite having such fixed notions about real and fake, truth and deception, Lantin is ironically oblivious to how his wife manages to eke out their lavish lifestyle on his modest salary of 3,500 francs. After his wife dies of a lung infection, Lantin is heartbroken. But soon the heartbreak is replaced by financial hardship: left to manage his income by himself, Lantin struggles for even his next meal. Here, he commits his first act of impropriety, attempting to sell off his beloved wife’s imitation jewelry. Thus, the text begins to reveal his hypocrisy.

When a jeweler’s appraisal shockingly reveals that the ornaments are not fake at all, but real and precious, Lantin’s hypocrisy sparkles as well. At first, he falls into a “dead faint” at the implication of the jewelry's actual worth. His modest, virtuous wife was clearly leading a double life, being gifted gems from her many admirers. It was this double life that funded the extravagant lifestyle of the Lantins.

But Lantin’s state of shock at his wife’s “betrayal” does not last long and gives way to something else quickly enough. Instead of shunning the income, which should be deemed dubious by his strict standards, he sells off all the jewelry, resigns from his job, and settles into a life of leisure. In this, the story exposes Lantin’s hypocrisy completely. His love for his wife perishes with her “deception,” but he is not above enjoying the fruits of her lies. He even discovers a love for the theater, for which he harshly judged his late wife. And soon enough he remarries, but in a cunning twist, the effect is not what he had hoped.

Six months afterward he married again. His second wife was a very virtuous woman, with a violent temper. She caused him much sorrow.

As we see, the story challenges Lantin’s definitions of truth, happiness, and virtue in a wife; and he gets his just desserts for his double standards. The wife he considered “impure” was the one he was truly happy with, while the truly virtuous woman causes him “much sorrow,” as he deserves.

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The moral of the story challenges nineteenth-century notions of what made a woman virtuous and pure. Normally, this was understood as being sexually faithful to one's husband. However, in this story, M. Lantin's first wife, who has a series of wealthy lovers and is lavished with expensive jewels by them, proves to be the far better wife than the conventionally virtuous woman he marries after her death.

The first wife is modest and loving and takes good care of the home. She is affectionate and kind to her husband and appears to enjoy his company. She makes his life a blessing, and he is overjoyed to be married to her. It shocks him very much after she dies to realize she was having affairs, but the jewelry she received makes him a wealthy man.

His second wife is pure and virtuous as far as being sexually faithful is concerned, so is a "good" woman in the eyes of their society. However, she is bad-tempered and difficult to live with.

The moral, therefore, is that it is better to have a wife who is kind to you and sexually unchaste than a chaste wife who treats you horribly.

The story—and the moral—are all androcentric, meaning told from the male point of view. The best thing a woman can do is make her man happy, run a household well, and leave her husband rich. What is good for the woman never seems to be considered.

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In the short story, "The False Gems," Monsieur Lantin lives a deceived yet happy life. He believes his wife to be virtuous. He trusts her with his whole heart. She makes his life worth living. While she loves her jewelry, she treats her man with affection and attention too:

She would examine the false gems with a passionate attention, as though they imparted some deep and secret joy; and she often persisted in passing a necklace around her husband's neck, and, laughing heartily, would exclaim: 'How droll you look!' Then she would throw herself into his arms, and kiss him affectionately.

Monsieur Lantin was completely happy with his wife. He loved her more after six years of marriage than he did in the beginning of their marriage. When she dies, he is grief stricken. He becomes poverty stricken and learns that his wife has a valuable collection of expensive jewels which she obtained through indecent means. His adulterous wife is still taking care of him, even after her death.

Selling her jewelry, Monsieur Lantin becomes rich. He quits his job. He marries again. This new wife is truly virtuous, but her violent temper makes his life unbearable. The moral of the story is that virtuous living is not always the key to happiness. Monsieur Lantin was happier with a woman of less virtue. He was complete in her love. He felt completely loved by the woman of less virtue than he did by the more virtuous woman. The moral of the story is that virtue does not necessarily make one happy. What Monsieur Lantin did not know did not hurt him. The new virtuous wife brings much sorrow to Monsieur Lantin's life. How virtuous is a woman who has a violent temper?

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