Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 259

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.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on April 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

In this cruel tale about ridiculous social pretensions, the main characters obviously get the fate they deserve. This is the world of the Parisian lower middle class, but it could well serve as an allegory for French society as a whole, or at least those elements of French society where ambition, materialism, greed, and petty meanness are the main dynamic. Mathilde bears a striking resemblance to Madame Bovary. Both feel trapped in a provincially dull existence, made worse by the solid mediocrity of their husbands. Both long for deliverance, but the deliverance that only money can buy. The party attended by the Loisels at the town house of the minister is not unlike the soiree that the Bovarys attend at the chateau of the count. Even the descriptions of the opulence of both settings seems interchangeable.

Both heroines pay a terrible price for their inability to come to terms with their situation in life. In the case of Emma Bovary, the cost is her own life, ended by suicide; with Mathilde Loisel, the torture is more prolonged. She has thrown away her youth and will have to live with her misery for the rest of her life. The grand party whose pleasant memory has sustained her even while she has been drudging to pay off her enormous debt now becomes a hideous nightmare.

This, in one way or another, is the price to be paid for crass materialism and false pride. Had the characters been less superficial and been willing to admit the loss of the necklace, all of their misery would have been avoided. In accepting a code of conduct that befits their ambitions, not their real situation, they courted disaster. In this the husband is as much to blame as his wife. Although Guy de Maupassant seems to be saying that such people are the victims of the society in which they live, dominated by the status-conscious in the early days of the Third Republic, he never prevents his characters from exercising their free will. It is precisely their...

(This entire section contains 381 words.)

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ability to make such choices that leads to their own damnation. Maupassant shows how the Loisels are imprisoned in their loneliness and their lack of self-worth. Their pathos is their inability to speak to avoid a whole lifetime of misery.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 290

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 government clerk, and people of modest means or desperate straits could see the jeweled rich living in luxury just out of reach.

By Maupassant's descriptions of Madame Loisel's envies and daydreams and one glorious ball at the house of the Minister, readers get a picture of what Paris looked like for the wealthy, and how elegant and comfortable their lives must have been. By his descriptions of the Loisels' modest and economical apartment, their visits to the theater, and Monsieur Loisel's wish to go shooting with some friends, readers know what Paris looked like for working people, and that their lives were not luxurious but comfortable and far from desperate.

However, working people crippled by debt shared the lifestyle of the uneducated, the unskilled, and the unlucky: the poor. Living in cheap rooms under a mansard roof, the Loisels would have roasted in summer and shivered in winter. With no running water, the simple hauling up four or five flights of stairs every bucket of water for cooking and cleaning and bathing was enough to exhaust a person. Buying the most economical foodstuffs, cooking meals and cleaning afterwards, and doing laundry by hand was for one person more than a modern full-time job.

The office work done by Loisel would have been tedious, repetitive, and unsatisfying for a literate man who enjoyed occasional visits to the theater. Neither modern nor classical working conditions were common in 1880; Loisel would have worked in a poorly-lit room with bad ventilation among people who bathed infrequently, and he could have been fired without cause or notice or recourse.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

Narration and Point of View

Like most of Maupassant's short stories, ‘‘The Necklace’’ is told by an omniscient third-person narrator, who refrains from judging the characters or their actions. The narrator does have access to the characters' thoughts, and mentions that Madame Loisel is unhappy because she feels that she married beneath her. But for the most part, the narrator simply describes the events of the story, leaving it up to the reader to determine the nature of the characters through their actions. Most of all, the narrator is concerned with Madame Loisel. Though most of the story concerns the events surrounding the ball, the narrator recounts her birth into a humble family, her marriage, and also the many years of poverty they suffer afterward as a result of losing the necklace. This deft narration allows Maupassant to tell a story that stretches many years in the space of only a few pages.


The necklace is the central symbol of the story. Madame Loisel "had no clothes, no jewels, nothing," and while her husband can buy her a dress, they cannot afford jewelry. The necklace thus represents Madame Loisel's greed and also her artificiality. She judges herself by the things that she has, and believes others will too. The necklace of artificial diamonds symbolizes the insincerity of her character. Those who admire the necklace only for its supposed worth have been fooled. Just because it looks real does not mean that it is real. This symbolism can be extended to Madame Loisel: Just because she looks like an upper-class lady in her ball gown and jewels does not mean that she is one. The men at the ball who admire her and succumb to her charms and wits can also be said to value appearance over reality, since they have been beguiled by a woman whose charms have been brought out by such artificial means.


Many critics have read "The Necklace'' as a Cinderella tale in reverse. Like Cinderella, Madame Loisel lives a humble life of drudgery (or so she believes) and cannot attend the ball until a fairy godmother figure—Madame Forestier—provides her with a dazzling necklace that will make her one of the most beautiful women at the dance. As Madame Loisel leaves the ball, the illusion of her refinement begins to crumble. Just as Cinderella's gown turns into a servant's frock, so must Madame Loisel put on "modest everyday clothes'' to protect herself from the cold of the night air. Ashamed, she "rapidly descends the staircase,'' likely losing the necklace then—just as Cinderella loses her glass shoe as she hurries to beat the stroke of midnight. The wagon that takes the Loisels home is old and shabby, more like a pumpkin than a grand carriage. Whereas Cinderella eventually wins her prince and thus gains admission to elite society, Madame Loisel's fortunes progress in the opposite direction from ‘‘happily ever after.’’ In Cinderella, truth and beauty go hand-in-hand, but in ‘‘The Necklace,’’ Madame Loisel is not truthful to Madame Forestier about the fate of the necklace, and she loses her beauty during the years of hard labor she suffers as a result of her insincerity and greed.


Concerned with the disparity between appearance and reality, "The Necklace'' deals with issues arising from ironic situations. In a society that so highly values appearance, it is ironic that the beautiful Madame Loisel is excluded from society because of her class standing. The story's greatest irony, however, is embodied in the necklace itself; while it appears to be a piece of jewelry of great value, it is really an imitation. The Loisels sacrifice their humble but sufficient home to buy an expensive replacement for a cheap original. The reader may also discover irony in the main character's name. ‘‘Madame Loisel’’ sounds much like ‘‘mademoiselle,’’ the French term for a young, unmarried girl, which is what Mathilde wishes she could be.


In tragic stories, hamartia is an error in action or judgment that causes the protagonist to experience a reversal of fortune. In "The Necklace,'' this is not when Madame Loisel borrows her friend's jewelry, but when she fails to tell Madame Forestier the truth about what has happened to it. Because she does not tell the truth, Madame Loisel does not learn that the necklace is a fake. She and her husband are forced into lives of poverty as a direct result of their dishonesty.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 196

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 imagination of short story authors around the world.

Maupassant's name has become coupled with the "trick ending" in the short story tradition (his admirer O. Henry took this technique to extreme lengths). It is not fair to associate Maupassant exclusively with the "trick ending," however, as he rarely employed it. This link is probably due to the frequency with which his story "The Necklace" has been anthologized. It is likely that "The Necklace" has been anthologized so often because it has no overt sexual element, and so publishers may feel safe about including it in books intended for young students.

"It is a grave error, and a greater injustice, to associate Maupassant with the naturalists, that all too easy label of the manuals of literature," wrote Professor Artine Artinian in his introduction to The Complete Short Stories of Guy Maupassant. "He shared Flaubert's burning aversion to 'schools,' and he deplored Zola's noisy proclamation of esthetic theories. His was the craftsman's cult of art in practice rather than in theorizing."




Historical and Social Context