Student Question

Analyze this statement in the context of the short story "The Necklace".

Quick answer:

The statement in the context of "The Necklace" can be analyzed as a commentary on the protagonist's transformation and the irony of her situation. Mathilde's loss of the necklace forced her to abandon her materialistic lifestyle and learn the value of hard work and self-pride. However, her downfall was her own pettiness and inability to be content or honest. The cruel irony is her sacrifice for a necklace that turned out to be worthless, underscoring the futility of her former materialistic values.

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Losing the necklace saved Mathilde and her husband. Before this she was spoiled and her husband tried to give her what she asked for. She had no appreciation for anything other than materialistic things. Having to spend so many years working on paying back the money, she came to appreciate setting goals and working to achieve them, and she valued and had pride in herself.

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Characteristically, Guy de Maupassant plays ironically upon the words singular and small in these lines, for one of his major concerns in his writing is the pettiness of the bourgeoisie of his native Normandy as in "The Necklace" and "The Piece of String."  For, it is the singular (as in particular to her, and odd) pettiness (smallness) of Mme. Loisel which becomes her nemesis.  Were Madame Loisel content to go without a necklace to the party, the night could not have taken the turn that it has.  If she were forthright in admitting to her friend that she has lost the necklance, Mathilde Loisel could not suffer as she has. 

That Mme. Loisel is tragic in her defiant pettiness is evidenced in her encounter with her old school friend in the denouement of the story.  For, with her characteristic pettiness, she announces to Mme Forestier how much she has sacrificed and suffered

"plenty of misfortunes--and all on account of you!"

And, with a perverse pride, also, she announces that she has paid Mme. Forestier back without her noticing that the necklace was different.  And, here the singular irony presents itself to Mme. Loisel because of her pettiness:

"But mine was only paste."

Indeed, "how small a thing--pettiness and a paste necklace--can ruin one.

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This is a great quote to use with this short story.  It is such a series of small things which change the fate of both the Loisels--all simple things which would and could have changed their fates.

  1. If she hadn't had such a desire to move up into the social world, she would not have gone to the party.
  2. If she had been content to wear the flowers her husband thought were a lovely adornment, she would neither have borrowed nor lost the necklace.
  3. If she had paid more attention to the necklace (how relatively carelessly it was stored and loaned), she would have known it was not the real thing.
  4. If she hadn't been so reckless at the party, she may not have lost the necklace.
  5. If she had swallowed her pride and explained the truth to her friend, she would not have had to become a virtual slave to the loan sharks.

In short, if her pride, from beginning to end had not been so grand, any one of these little things would have saved her from a life of drudgery and misery.  The only redeeming thing, in the end, is that she is undoubtedly a better person for having experienced what she did.

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