Discussion Topic

Exploration of Themes in "The Necklace" and "The Story of an Hour"

Summary:

Both "The Necklace" and "The Story of an Hour" explore themes of dissatisfaction in marriage. Madame Loisel is unhappy due to her unfulfilled desire for luxury, while Louise Mallard feels oppressed and longs for freedom. Both women are trapped in passive roles dictated by their social and marital circumstances. While Madame Loisel's conflict is internal, driven by materialism, Mrs. Mallard's is societal, stemming from Victorian repression.

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What theme is common in "The Necklace" and "The Story of an Hour"?

In both "The Necklace" and "The Story of an Hour," the female protagonists are unhappy with the state of their lives and their marriages. Moreover, both the husband of Madam Loisel and Louise Mallard seem unaware of their wives' dissatisfaction. It is less clear what Louise Mallard wants besides freedom to make her own decisions and live life on her own terms, but Madame Loisel's unhappiness is clearly defined by her unfulfilled desire for elegance and luxury.

In both marriages, the wives seem to have chosen their husbands poorly. Louise Mallard feels oppressed by her husband, Brently, and life inside the walls of their home while he is away working. Madame Loisel feels dowdy and socially inferior; it is clear that she wishes she had been able to marry a wealthier and more socially advantaged man. This is made obvious by the ecstasy she experiences at the ball, when she is wearing an elegant gown and borrowed necklace and dancing with her husband's superiors.

The shared theme in the stories could be thought of as the tragedy of women who find themselves trapped in unfulfilling marriages. The reasons for the feelings of unfulfillment may be different in the case of the two protagonists, but both women are deeply unhappy.

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Compare the theme of love and marriage in "The Necklace" and "The Story of an Hour."

COMPARISONS

  • Both the lives of Madame Loisel and Mrs. Mallard are expressive of the inequities of marriage.

In "The Necklace" Matilde Loisel is limited in her future life because she has "no dowry, no prospects, not way of any kind of being met...by a man both prosperous and famous." Madame Loisel is limited in her marriage because of money; similarly, Mrs. Mallard is restricted by the femme covert laws of the Victorian era in which a wife's property becomes that of her husband. 

  • Both wives exist in a passive condition

Exemplary of the passive life that Mme. Loisel lives is her lack of excitement when her husband mentions that he has an invitation to a reception at the Ministerial Mansion:

...I don't have an evening dress and therefore I can't go to that affair...Give the card to some friend at the office whose wife can dress better than I can.

Louise Mallard, too, entertains no hope of anything but a passive condition, Indicative of this attitude are the many sentences written in passive voice: "Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart condition...." [She] was pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul."

Certainly, the setting of the late 1800's confines both wives to domesticity. Mme. Loisel must stay home while her husband works; then, after they must replace the diamond necklace and become indigent because of their debt, she is reduced to washing rags and hanging them on a line to dry, scrubbing clothes, cleaning house, taking the garbage down the street, "bargaining with the fruit dealers, the grocer...and ...insulted by them."

Mrs. Mallard, too, stays at home, her property now belongs to her husband. In contrast, as she contemplates the death of Brently Mallard, Louise Mallard reflects,

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature.

  • There does not seem to be much love in the marriages of both women. 

Madame Loisel's husband is kind to her and sacrifices for her, but she does not return the love, being materialistic. First, she expects him to buy her a dress for the ball, then she feels he should help her pay for the necklace.

As Mrs. Mallard sits in her bedroom after learning the fatal news of her husband's supposed death in the railroad accident, she reflects, "And yet, she had loved him--sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter?"

  • Both women are in conflict with their society, although for different reasons

Mrs. Mallard is inhibited by a repressive Victorian society while Madame Loisel desires to be more of a part in her materialistic society and not so confined monetarily.

CONTRASTS

  • Setting: In "The Necklace," the setting of the "Belle Époque" with fashionable settings allows more freedom for women to go out independently than the Victorian setting of "The Story of an Hour."
  • Social Status: Mrs. Mallard is of the upper class, Mathilde Loisel is part of what Maupassant viewed as the petty bourgeoisie.
  • Conflicts: In "The Story of an Hour," the conflict that Mrs. Mallard has is with the society which represses women; however, in "The Necklace," the main conflict is within Madame Loisel as she values material possessions more than love and wishes to participate in the fashionable world of the Belle Epoque in which she lives.

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