Ms Evelyn Beck
9 February 2007
“The Necklace”: Condemning Greed and Selfishness
Greed, defined as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed”, is an often used theme in many stories we have all read, even children’s tales. Most of us have read “Hansel and Gretel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, or “Snow White”, three tales written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in which greed is a central theme. In his story “The Necklace”, Guy de Maupassant condemns the greed and selfishness seen throughout literature. Through his use of point of view, characterization, mood and tone, as well as through the evidence of conflict and the tension developed throughout the plot, Maupassant reinforces his position that greed, envy, and selfishness can only bring about disaster.
The story is told from the point of view of an impassive bystander, someone not involved in the lives of the characters. This serves to distance the reader from the characters, offering little or no insight into the inner thoughts of Mme Loisel or her husband. This point of view is not entirely objective, for we are given some insight into Mme Loisel’s daydreams of “large, silent anterooms, decorated with oriental tapestries and lighted by high bronze floor lamps” (Maupassant 5), but for the most part the narrator doesn’t bother to offer us a glimpse of the main characters thoughts except where they display turmoil and unhappiness.
It is through the characters that a reader is able to connect with the story, to develop sympathy for them or not. In this story the writer provides us only with flat characters that distance the reader from them in such a way that we are not able to develop an emotional connection with them. It is easy to describe Mme Loisel as a greedy woman, or her husband as a workingman, but it is very difficult to go beyond such generalizations. Of Madame Loisel we know only that “she was one of those pretty and charming women” (Maupassant 5), and of her husband we only learn he is of little status, “a minor clerk” (Maupassant 5). We only learn the names of the main characters when the invitation arrives for the party, and thereafter their names are used only occasionally. It is as though Maupassant does not want us to know the characters except by their dialogue and their behavior as it is described.
Throughout the story the mood is tense, and for the most part unhappy. Mme Loisel is unhappy about her life, and her husband is unhappy because he cannot make his wife happy no matter how hard he works. Maupassant uses word choice to repeatedly reveal that tension. From the very beginning we are told Mme. Loisel is “unhappy” (Maupassant 5), that she “suffered constantly” (Maupassant 5). After the invitation arrives she doesn’t delight in the opportunity, but becomes spiteful, angry and impatient with her husband (Maupassant 6). The tension only increases as we come to the scene of the party and just after, when the necklace is lost. The wrap Mr. Loisel tried to throw about his wife’s shoulders spoke of “poverty”, the cab they eventually found was “wretched”, and they “sadly” climbed the steps to their home. (Maupassant 8)
Every plot needs a climax; a point in which the events of the story come to a crescendo and the main characters must make a choice. In “Hansel and Gretel”, for instance, the climax comes when the little girl pushes the hag into the fire (Grimm 4). In “Rumpelstiltskin” the moment when the “manikin” (Grimm 2) returns to claim the price they agreed upon is the climax. In “The Necklace”, this crisis comes when Mme. Loisel loses the precious diamond necklace and must find a way to replace it; Maupassant calls this a “frightful disaster” (9). Even after the climax the tense, unhappy mood continues; her husband borrows money to buy a replacement necklace despite the “compromises” (Maupassant 10) they will have to make, though all Mme Loisel would have had to do was explain what happened to her friend and all would be well. Because she chose to lie and continue a deceit at the cost of what few luxuries she did have, she was forced to live a hard and unpleasant life.
Through the conflict of a story the writer provides us with insight into the theme of the work, the message or meaning he is seeking to convey. The conflict in this story seems to be Mme. Loisel’s unhealthy desire for a life better than she can reach. From the beginning of the story the narrator allows us to see her desire for things she cannot have and how her meager surroundings torture her. Her “grim apartment with its drab walls, threadbare furniture, [and] ugly curtains” (Maupassant 5) is the cause of her suffering, the writer tells us. We are also told how the sight of a simple working girl made her even more desolate and hopeless (Maupassant 5) instead of being encouraging. When the invitation to the party comes, Mme Loisel sobs instead of being delighted at the opportunity because she doesn’t have the proper things to wear. Her husband, in an effort to make his wife happy, gives up something he desires in order to buy her a new gown, one she will likely only wear once. Even when she has her new dress she is miserable, believing that she will be humiliated because she “will look like a beggar” without expensive jewelry.
Maupassant does not seem to want the reader to feel sorry for his main character in this story. Instead, he seems to want the reader to condemn the woman for her pretentiousness and envy. As though intimating that greed and envy are the worst of sins, the writer provides no solace for Mme Loisel, nor does she seem changed by her ordeal. Even at the end, when she learns that the diamond necklace she replaced was in fact a fake, she blames her friend for her hardships, saying to her “[it is] all because of you!” (Maupassant 11) She has not learned a thing through the ten years of suffering; the greed has poisoned her. It is in this way, in the manner in which he characterizes Mme Loisel and her husband, in the distant point of view and the anxious, despondent mood throughout the story, that Maupassant clearly takes a position against the greed and selfishness of humankind.
De Maupassant, Guy. “The Necklace.” Literature: An introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. New York. Pearson Prentice Hall. 2007
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. “Rumplestitzkin”. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. February 2, 2007. “http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/grimmtmp/044.txt”.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. “Hansel and Grethel”. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. February 2, 2007. “http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/grimmtmp/012.txt”.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. February 6 2007. “http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary”.