Define new historicism using the context of the story "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

New historicism is a literary theory which began in the 1980s. The theory states that a  work should be evaluated with regard to the time, place, and historical circumstances rather than as an isolated piece of literature.  There are four principles of the theory:

  • Literature is historically based on the author’s social and ethnic conscience when he was writing the work.
  • Literature is not a separate entity, but a part of the historical view of the time in which it was written
  • Literature belongs to the time in which it was written.
  • A reader can not experience the text as it was intended because only the readers of the literature’s time period can do so.

In evaluating the theme of "The Necklace" in this literary theory, the analysis would begin with the historical context in France in the mid 1800's when Guy de Maupassant was writing. 

Historical context=There was a definite class system.  Each person had specific place in the caste structure. 

Financially, France was strapped because of the recent Franco-Prussian war.

A study of the life of the author would be necessary.

Author's life=His parents were lower aristocracy

They divorced when the author was a boy.

De Maupassant worked as a clerk and despised the job.

Endured devastating illness [syphilis throughout his life] which impacted his mental stability.

The third area of examination would be the story.

Based on the other aspects of the theory, this story deals with greed, materialistic importance, and the class system. 

The main character is hedonistic, concerned only with her own pleasure. Mathilde does grow as a character and triumphs in that she becomes a better human being as a result of the hardships that she endures.  Unfortunately, most of the hard work that she and her poor husband withstand was unnecessary.  Truth is always the best course of action.

The theme of the story based on the historical view in which the story was written would be stated: a person should assess herself on who she is within: her value system and moral character.  This appraisal should not be based on where she is in societal view or what possessions she owns.