Style and Technique
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
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 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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,863 words.)