Compare and contrast "The Necklace" by William H. Coles and Guy de Maupassant.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Guy de Maupassant's classic short story, "The Necklace," set in 19th century Paris, is about a middle class woman who longs to be rich. When she borrows and then loses the necklace of the title her life is changed forever. De Maupassant's story is a firm condemnation of materialism as...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the sought after wealth which the necklace symbolizes turns out to be a fake.

William H. Coles short story of the same name is about upper middle class Americans on tour in India in the present day. There is a deliberate contrast between the ostentatious materialism of the necklace worn by Betsy and the appalling squalor of the Indian people.

It's possible to compare Madame Loisel with the narrator's companion, Helen. At the beginning of de Maupassant's story Madame Loisel covets the opulence of the rich. She dreams of lavishly furnished rooms with expensive pieces of art and of servants catering to her every whim. In Coles' story, Helen spends part of her life in a seventeen room estate she receives in a divorce. The narrator lives in a small apartment and there is some conflict over where the couple might end up living if they marry. Coles says that Helen "longs" for the comfortable life in her mansion.

In de Maupassant's story Madame Loisel changes over the course of the story. She goes from being a self centered and impetuous young woman to being determined and hard working. Once the necklace is lost her life is changed and she rises to the occasion. At one point de Maupassant calls her heroic in her determination to help her husband pay off the debt they accrue in replacing the necklace.

Likewise, Helen changes over the course of the story. She is profoundly effected by the plight of the Indian poor, especially after the expensive necklace Betsy wears is stolen by street people in New Delhi. In the climax of the story Helen gives away all the worldly possessions she has in her purse to a mob of beggars outside the Taj Mahal. This symbolic cleansing of materialism is similar to the privations experienced by Madame Loisel. Both women have an important epiphany about the importance of wealth. Helen, when Betsy loses the necklace and later dies, and Madame Loisel, when she discovers the necklace she borrowed from Madame Forestier was fake.

A major difference in the stores is that de Maupassant's tale ends on a sad note. Madame Loisel's life is ruined and she seems to realize too late that life's meaning transcends wealth and materialism. For Helen and the narrator of Coles' story, the experience in India strengthens their relationship. Helen will not take her life for granted. She tells the narrator that they can live wherever they want and still be happy. She has realized through the interaction with Betsy and Anwar how important her relationship with the narrator is for her. In a final bit of symbolism relating the two stories, the narrator gives Helen a very inexpensive native Indian necklace as a symbol of their new life.    

Approved by eNotes Editorial