At a Glance

  • The ending of Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace" is painfully ironic: the necklace Mathilde borrowed was a fake, and she has spent ten years slaving away to pay back the debt she incurred to replace it. Her initially honorable act proves foolish and misguided, a result of pride more than anything.
  • Mathilde Loisel's greatest flaw is her dissatisfaction. As a beautiful young woman in her prime, she believes she deserves more than a lower-middle-class life with an unambitious clerk for a husband. She wants to be rich, and it's this very desire to climb the social ladder that destroys her, plunging her into a life of poverty and debt.
  • For Mathilde, the necklace is a symbol of social status. When she wears it, she's the prettiest woman in the room and feels like part of the upper-class. In the end, however, the necklace becomes a symbol of Mathilde's downfall, causing her to fall deeply into debt. In the context of the story as a whole, the necklace proves that money does not equal happiness.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Maupassant learned much from his godfather and mentor, Gustave Flaubert, displaying in his short stories the same precision and sobriety of language. Maupassant is particularly good in creating atmosphere by describing sights and smells, places and things. He likes to describe his characters through the way that they view their own surroundings:She dreamed of hushed antichambers cushioned with oriental fabrics and illuminated by tall bronze candle sticks, with two imposing footmen in knee breeches, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the radiators, dozing in large arm chairs. She imagined great rooms bedecked with ancient silk, with splendid furniture decorated with expensive knick-knacks, and of smaller intimate perfumed rooms, intended for five o’clock gossip with the closest friends, the men well-known and sought-after enjoying the envy and attention of every woman.

Although Maupassant tried to suppress his own passions to achieve that objectivity of description for which the realists were known, his sententiousness, nevertheless, shines through:Women have no class and no breeding. Their beauty, their grace, their charm are substitutes for birth and family. Their instinctive shrewdness, their predilection for elegance, their suppleness of spirit are their only system of rank, and in this way the daughters of the common people are the equals of the great ladies.

In this rather pessimistic view of women, Maupassant has descended to the level of the cliché, something that he is rarely guilty of doing, but he also gives his main character a deterministic slant, making her more a victim of forces beyond her control than he undoubtedly intended.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Couples dancing a quadrille at a nineteenth-century ball. Published by Gale Cengage

The Third Republic
Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the expulsion of Napoleon III as emperor, the...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Setting

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Maupassant wrote this story set in a present that he knew and had lately lived: Paris in 1880. There, a Breton could find honest labor as a...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Narration and Point of View
Like most of Maupassant's short stories, ‘‘The Necklace’’ is told by an omniscient...

(The entire section is 742 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In a few words, Maupassant could portray a figure, in a few pages he could describe a fate. Some of his stories in translation fired the...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Maupassant never married, and after reading this story one can guess that at least part of the reason may have been that for ten years he was...

(The entire section is 689 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1880s: During the 1880s, as a republican government solidified following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 France entered...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What does Matilda covet? How does her desire affect her life?

2. What is ambition? Why is it a good servant but a poor...

(The entire section is 150 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What virtue does Madame Loisel learn in her sustained efforts to run her household with the utmost economy? What has this lesson cost her?...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research the development of France's Third Republic and examine how the society depicted in this story reflects the aspirations and...

(The entire section is 92 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Readers who have enjoyed this story would be particularly advised to read Maupassant's story "Boule de Suif" and any of dozens of his short...

(The entire section is 78 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

There are at least three film versions of Maupassant's story available in English. The first, a silent film from 1909, was directed by D. W....

(The entire section is 154 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The other short story that competes with "The Necklace" for the title of "Maupassant's masterpiece" is his first published story, "Boule de...

(The entire section is 247 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Sources
James, Henry. ‘‘Guy de Maupassant,’’ reprinted in his Partial Portraits, Macmillan, 1888, pp....

(The entire section is 317 words.)

Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Guy de Maupassant. Philadelphia, Chelsea House, 2004. Collection of essays on de Maupassant’s short fiction, divided into sections. The section on “The Necklace” includes a plot summary, a list of characters, a summary of critical views on the work, and four full essays relevant to the story.

Bryant, David. The Rhetoric of Pessimism and Strategies of Containment in the Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Using several stories as examples, Bryant discusses de Maupaussant’s depiction of a world hostile to humanity. He describes three constants in the stories that contribute to de Maupassant’s overall unity of vision: the world as a metaphysical farce in which the narrator’s detachment transforms suffering, the power of chance, and writing as a response to fate.

MacNamara, Matthew. “A Critical Stage in the Evolution of Maupassant’s Story-Telling.” Modern Language Review 71, no. 2 (April, 1976): 294-303. Emphasizes the extent to which de Maupassant was influenced by oral tradition and spoken conversation.

Powys, John Cowper. “Guy de Maupassant.” In Essays on de Maupassant, Anatole France, and William Blake. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2006. Highlights de Maupassant’s realist approach and his focus on physical reality.

Worth, George J. “The English ’Maupassant School’ of the 1890’s: Some Reservations.” Modern Language Notes 72, no. 5 (May, 1957): 337-340. Chronicles de Maupassant’s career and the metamorphosis of his anecdotal conversational style.

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Artinian, Artine, editor. The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant. Garden City, NY: Hanover House/Doubleday, 1955. The...

(The entire section is 108 words.)