What literary devices are used in "The Necklace"?

Quick answer:

Literary devices include irony, with the opening description of Mme. Loisel as born "as if by an error of fate." She is “drunk on pleasure,” which is a metaphor. We are in suspense to learn if her husband finds the lost necklace. The cost to replace it is the alliterative "dreadful debt.” Mme. Loisel flashes back to "that evening at the ball so long ago," and the conclusion is a plot twist.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Examples of literary devices used in the story include suspense, irony, alliteration, metaphor, flashback, and plot twist.

Irony: The story opens with a description of Mme. Loisel:

She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as if by an error of fate, into a family of clerks.

To say her social rank occurred “as if by an error of fate” is irony because the only one who really feels that way is Mme. Loisel herself. Her husband is perfectly content with their status and lifestyle.

Metaphor: When Mme. Loisel is at the ball wearing her friend’s “diamond” necklace and looking beautiful, de Maupassant describes her as “drunk on pleasure.” This is a metaphor that compares her happiness to being drunk, even though the reader understands that she cannot be drunk from the thrill and fun that she is having at the ball.

Suspense: Another literary device is suspense. After she realizes that she has lost the necklace and tells her husband, Monsieur Loisel says that he will go out to search for it. She waits in suspense for him to return with some word of the necklace, and the reader also is left in suspense. The author writes:

He left. She remained in her ball dress all evening, without the strength to go to bed, sitting on a chair, with no fire, her mind blank.

Her husband returned at about seven o'clock. He had found nothing.

He went to the police, to the newspapers to offer a reward, to the cab companies; everywhere the tiniest glimmer of hope led him.

She waited all day, in the same state of blank despair from before this frightful disaster.

Alliteration: Once they realize that the necklace is lost, the Loisels determine to purchase a new one to replace it. They work hard for ten years for the cost of purchasing the necklace; the author refers to this as “the dreadful debt.” This is a use of alliteration, or using two or more words together that begin with the same letter and sound.

Flashback: Although we do not get to go back and have the scene described again, we get a glimpse of it when we learn that Mme Loisel flashes back to it “sometimes, when her husband was at the office.” The author notes that

she sat down near the window and thought of that evening at the ball so long ago, when she had been so beautiful and so admired.

Plot twist: The conclusion of the story is a plot twist or surprise ending. Throughout the story, the reader thinks of the necklace as diamond, but then Mme. Loisel’s friend tells her that the necklace was a fake.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator uses a great deal of imagery in order to show us the life that Madame Loisel imagines for herself. Imagery consists of descriptions of sensory experience, and so it can be visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), or olfactory (smell). The narrator says,

She imagined silent antechambers, heavy with Oriental tapestries, lit by torches in lofty bronze sockets, with two tall footmen in knee-breeches sleeping in large arm-chairs, overcome by the heavy warmth of the stove. She imagined vast saloons hung with antique silks, exquisite pieces of furniture supporting priceless ornaments, and small, charming, perfumed rooms, created just for little parties of intimate friends, men who were famous and sought after, whose homage roused every other woman's envious longings.

Thus, we have auditory imagery ("silent antechambers"), visual imagery ("Oriental tapestries lit by torches in lofty bronze sockets"), tactile imagery ("heavy warmth of the stove"), and even olfactory imagery ("perfumed rooms").

The narrator also uses hyperbole, or overstatement, to exaggerate the truth, thereby emphasizing how Madame Loisel feels. He says, "She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And these were the only things she loved." Of course, Madame Loisel has clothes and things—just not anything that she thinks of as worthwhile or as beautiful as she would want.

The narrator uses personification when he declares that Madame Loisel "looked at [her husband] out of furious eyes." Eyes cannot be furious, but she is so angry with him over the invitation he brings home that her eyes are characterized in this way. Personification is the attribution of human qualities to something that is not human. Later, her heart is personified as "beat[ing] covetously" when she sees Madame Forestier's beautiful necklace.

The narrator also uses a metaphor when he says that Madame Loisel danced as though she were "drunk with pleasure." A metaphor compares two unalike things; in this case, Madame Loisel's intense pleasure is compared to being drunk.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is a wonderful example of foreshadowing when Madame and Monsieur Loisel go to the jeweler's shop, hoping to find an exact replacement for the lost necklace. The jeweler recognizes the empty case, but checking his records finds that he hasn't sold such a necklace recently.

This episode ominously foreshadows the climax of the story, when Madame Loisel will realize to her horror that what she thought was the valuable necklace loaned to her by Madame Forestier was actually a fake. This is also a clear example of situational irony, where there is a huge discrepancy between what is expected, and what actually happens instead.

There's important symbolism here, too. The fake necklace symbolizes the phoniness of Madame Loisel, someone who always thought she was better than her modest surroundings, craving wealth and social respectability. And yet because of her greed, her overweening desire to be rich and glamorous, she's ended up as a poverty-stricken housewife, old before her time, much lower down the social ladder than she was before that fateful night when she first put on the (fake) diamond necklace.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What literary devices are used in “The Necklace”?

Guy de Maupassant weaves a variety of literary devices through his short story “The Necklace” to give the tale increased interest and beauty. First, he uses vivid descriptive language to provide a series of contrasts. Madame Loisel lives with “worn-out chairs” and “ugly curtains.” These things torture her and make her angry, for she dreams of “silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry,” candelabras, footman, “long salons fitted up with ancient silk,” delightful furniture and “priceless curiosities,” and “coquettish perfumed boudoirs.” The author's language paints a detailed picture in readers' minds of the two different worlds, Madame Loisel's actual world and her dream world.

De Maupassant also includes a few similes and metaphors to enliven his tale. Madame Loisel dreams of listening to “whispered gallantries” with a “sphinx-like smile,” wise and knowing yet mysterious. At the ball, Madame Loisel dances as though “made drunk by pleasure,” intoxicated with the “triumph” of beauty and admiration.

As he describes the cab in which the Loisels ride home, the author says that it is

one of those ancient noctambulant coupes, which, exactly as if they were ashamed to show their misery during the day, are never seen round Paris until after nightfall.

The cab is personified, its human-like shame keeping it well hidden in the dark, but it also stands as an analogy for Madame Loisel, who hides in the dark after she must put on her common wraps to leave the ball, ashamed to show herself before other women in their fine furs.

De Maupassant employs contrast again when he describes the life the Loisels must endure after borrowing a great deal of money to replace the lost necklace. After ten years of living in poverty and doing all her own work, Madame Loisel has changed so much that her old friend, Madame Forestier, does not even recognize her. The author, however, has a surprise ending in store for his readers. Madame Forestier tells Madame Loisel that the necklace the latter had borrowed and lost ten years before was merely a paste copy worth about five hundred francs. It was not a forty-thousand-franc diamond necklace at all! De Maupassant leaves his readers hanging, however, forcing them to imagine the reaction of Madame Loisel for themselves.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on