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The role of social class and its implications in "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant

Summary:

In "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant, social class plays a crucial role as it drives the protagonist, Mathilde, to borrow a necklace to appear wealthier than she is. This desire for a higher social status leads to her downfall when she loses the borrowed necklace and spends years in poverty to replace it, only to discover it was a fake.

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What is the role of social class in "The Necklace" by Guy De Maupassant?

Social class is one of the critical themes that drives "The Necklace," both in terms of its plot and its characters. In this story focused on class pretensions, its main protagonist, Mathilde Loisel, is described as highly covetous of the lifestyle and prestige of the upper classes, while being deeply unsatisfied with her own status as the wife of a government clerk.

As the story continues, Mathilde is invited to a ball, but she immediately becomes fixated on what kind of image she would project. As a result, she pressures her husband to buy her a new dress and later borrows a diamond necklace from her wealthy friend. It is only when she can project this illusion of opulence that extends far beyond her actual means that she is willing to attend the ball. This turns into disaster, however, when she loses the necklace. She decides to purchase a replacement, borrowing large sums of money in the process.

What we see in this story is a combination of vanity, pride and social pretension, which result in destruction for Mathilde and her husband. Greatly indebted, they lose their middle-class status and fall into poverty. As the story concludes, after they have finally managed to pay off the debts, Mathilde reveals to her friend the loss of the necklace. Her friend tells her that the original had been a fake.

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What is the role of social class in "The Necklace" by Guy De Maupassant?

Mathilde Loisel was born into a family of clerks, and—with no means of marrying up—she "let herself by married" to another such clerk. She seems like someone who ought to be of a higher class than she is, and this made her

as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station . . . Natural fineness, instinct for what is elegant, suppleness of wit, are the sole hierarchy, and make from women of the people the equals of the very greatest ladies.

Her desire to transcend social class and her belief that her beauty and charm should have destined her for the upper class result in anger that she cannot achieve this. "[S]he felt made for "fancy dresses and jewels," and "She would so have liked to please, to be envied, to be charming, to be sought after." Though she has a husband who wants to make her happy, to provide her with the kinds of experiences she longs for, she is still unhappy because she doesn't have the material trappings of an upper-class woman. Her husband is even willing to give up a treat for himself for which he'd been saving, giving her the money to buy a beautiful dress. Still, she is unsatisfied because she has no jewels. Ironically, she says that "there's nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other women who are rich."

Sadly, she is wrong, and she feels the weight of her new and greater humiliation when she and her husband must work themselves to the bone to pay off the loans they take out in order to purchase a replacement necklace for Mathilde's friend after Mathilde loses it. She trades a life for one night of "happiness composed of all this homage, of all this admiration, of all these awakened desires, and of that sense of complete victory which is so sweet to woman's heart." After replacing the necklace, she "now knew the horrible existence of the needy." Had Mathilde been satisfied with her pleasing husband and her relative luxury (a nice flat, servants, and so forth)—in short, with her middle-class existence—she would never have "had [to] become the woman of impoverished households" that she does become after the party. She descends to the lower class as a result of her insatiable desire to ascend to the upper.

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What is the role of social class in "The Necklace" by Guy De Maupassant?

One of the great ironies of Guy de Maupassant's short story, The Necklace, is how Madame Loisel actually descends into a lower class of life after her attempt to join high society on the night of the ball. Unhappy with her perfectly acceptable middle class life, she pretended to be something she wasn't in the hope of tasting how the upper class lived. And she did--for a few hours one night. After losing the necklace, however, she and her husband were forced to borrow money, give up their home, and work extra jobs in order to replace the necklace. Instead of achieving a bit of upper class status while living in her middle class world, Madame Loisel fell to even lower depths for a decade while working to pay for the jewels.

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What is the role of social class in "The Necklace" by Guy De Maupassant?

Really, this whole story is about social class and the desire to move up in social class.

Madame Loisel is born to a lower class than she thinks she should be in.  She feels that it is really important for her to try to move up and mingle with people of a higher social class.  That is why she is so eager to go to the ball when the invitation comes.

Madame Loisel is also eager to pretend that she is just as high class as anyone else at the party.  That is why she borrows the necklace that causes her so many problems.

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How does Guy de Maupassant present class difference and promote social justice in "The Necklace"?

From the start of the story, Maupassant tackles the issue of class when he explains that Madame Loisel has been born into a place in the social hierarchy that limits her possibilities in ways she doesn't like. He writes:

She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, wedded, by any rich and distinguished man; and she let herself be married to a little clerk at the Ministry of Public Instruction.

Madame Loisel is lower-middle class and has done well for herself in gaining a husband from her own class and a comfortable if modest life, but she dreams of wealth and luxury that is out of reach. Therefore, she is constantly dissatisfied because of her class. Being graceful and beautiful, she believes she deserves more and:

she was as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station

Because of her dreams of wealth and splendor, she notices limitations that another woman of her class would never have noticed:

She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the wretched look of the walls, from the worn-out chairs, from the ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made her angry.

Fine class graduations emerge when her husband gets them both an invitation to a grand event. Madame Loisel is upset, not happy, as her husband had hoped she would be. She doesn't want to be laughed at for her clothes and isn't satisfied until her husband allows her an expensive (but to her just barely acceptable) new dress. She is upset that she no jewels and perks up when her husband suggests she borrow something from her rich friend.

When she loses the diamond necklace she borrowed, and she and her husband have to go into massive debt to replace it, Maupassant reveals the couple falling into a threadbare lifestyles, keeping their heads above waters by pinching every penny. He shows the coarsening effect this has on Madame Loisel.

Maupassant doesn't openly promote social justice, but he does show social injustice. The rich can get away with wearing fake jewels because they are rich, but beyond that, Maupassant suggest that the values Madame Loisel buys into are false. She can't tell a fake diamond from a real one, which symbolizes that the world she admires so much perhaps isn't worth all that much: it is perhaps fake too. Also, the sufferings that the Loisels endure once they go into debt call into question a society in which the costly baubles of the wealthy (whether they are 'worth it' or not) can economically cripple people of average means.

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