The Jewelry (or The False Gems) Themes
The main themes in “The Jewelry” (or “The False Gems”) include hypocrisy and greed, modesty and virtue, and deceit and perception.
- Hypocrisy and greed: Monsieur Lantin praises his wife’s supposed modesty and economy, but when he becomes rich, he exaggerates the amount he has gained.
- Modesty and virtue: It is partially Madame Lantin’s love for the theater, a luxury, that leads to her death.
- Deceit and perception: Madame Lantin deceives Monsieur Lantin in wearing “fake” jewels that are actually real. Monsieur Lantin also deceives himself, believing that wealth will be the end of his problems, and finally lies about his wealth to others.
Hypocrisy and Greed
At the beginning of the story, Monsieur Lantin appears to value nothing above modesty and virtue, as is seen through the narrator’s descriptions of Madame Lantin at the beginning of the story and Monsieur Lantin’s insistence that his wife’s “beauty and modesty alone . . . are the rarest ornaments of [her] sex.”
Monsieur Lantin’s love for his wife is based on their simple and humble life. Even as he forgives Madame Lantin her small indulgences—her love of theater and her collection of “fake” jewelry—he does so with extreme judgment. The theater, to him, is boring, and the false gems are “deceptions” and “trash.”
As soon as Monsieur Lantin sees the potential for acquiring easy wealth in his own future, this conviction begins to dissolve. After years of condemning his wife for aspiring to her versions of moderate luxury, he begins to fantasize about how wealth, above anything else, might ameliorate his perpetual grief over her death:
The rich, indeed, are happy. With money, it is possible to forget even the deepest sorrow. One can go where one pleases, and in travel find that distraction which is the surest cure for grief. Oh if I were only rich!
When he finally does come into money, he appears to lose sight entirely of the honor he used to find in “angelic modesty.” Instead, he instantly begins inflating the perception of his new wealth to seem more and more impressive to others—after making 143,000 francs, he daydreams about yelling to passersby that he’s suddenly worth 200,000 francs. By the time he’s made it to his workplace to resign, he’s upped the number yet again to 300,000. At dinner, he tells a man nearby that he’s just inherited 400,000. This is an inversion of the metric by which he judged his wife at the beginning of the story—the virtuous honor of humility, modesty, and frugality have been instantly abandoned for the social prestige of pomp, excess, and luxury.
Modesty and Virtue
It is Monsieur Lantin’s austere fixation on modesty and humility that define his relationship with his first wife. They’re bonded together by this shared virtue and frugality, which appears to be, to him, the mechanism by which a person might exist in the world honorably:
He was unspeakably happy with her. She governed his household with such clever economy that they seemed to live in luxury.
Monsieur Lantin readily confers the epithets of “virtuous” and “modest” upon his wife, despite her indulgent habits that irk him.
The circumstances of Madame Lantin’s death could, to some degree, be viewed as a vindication of Monsieur Lantin’s viewpoint toward extreme austerity. It was, after all, during an evening excursion to the theater where she caught the winter chill that led first to her lung inflammation and, ultimately, to her death. Had Madame Lantin shared her husband’s views in full, she wouldn’t have gone on such an extravagant outing in the first place, and her life might...
(The entire section is 815 words.)