When I first read “The Necklace” I hated it, and hated the author for writing such a mean little story. I was surprised that my ninth grade classmates liked it. When I reread the story in English 113, I again disliked it, and was again surprised that anyone could like such a story. Unlike the first time I read it, this time I thought about why I so disliked Maupassant?s story. The reason is the story?s implicit philosophical message. That message is that honesty is bad, that the world we live in is fundamentally malevolent, where any trivial occurrence could destroy one?s dreams and ambitions, and that it is better to just accept what one has, never aspiring for more.
It was suggested in class that it was Mathilde?s dishonesty, her not telling Mrs. Forrestier that she lost her necklace, was her downfall. But only in the most superficial sense was Mathilde dishonest. She, by not gushing out confessions and prostrating herself while pleading for forgiveness, took responsibility for her mistakes by replacing Mrs. Forester’s necklace. And if this is not the most honest and manly action, then what is? What happens as a result of Mathilde?s honesty? She is plunged into poverty, and drudgery that will take away her prized youth and beauty, never to return.
The traditional Cinderella story is so endearing because it takes advantage of one?s sense of justice. By sense of justice I do not mean one?s sense that all evil should be punished, but one?s sense that all virtue should be rewarded. The story begins with an poor abused girl, who is kinder and prettier then her stepsisters, but because of poor circumstances, her beauty goes unrecognized. The story?s happy end occurs when the prince finds Cinderella?s feet fit the glass slipper, realizes that poor Cinderella is the beauty he danced at the ball with, and then takes her away to marry him. In other words: unrecognized virtue is finally rewarded. Maupassant takes this Cinderella story, puts it in a more believable Third Republic setting, and, by making Mathilde slightly less perfect then the improbable Cinderella, he makes Mathilde a more sympathetic and realistic character. By the top of page seven it seems as if this more realistic Cinderella story was just about over, but Maupassant is not satisfied yet. He takes a trivial detail, Mathilde losing her necklace, and uses it to yank her from her new, happier life, to a horrible life of poverty. A world where any tiny, innocent mistake can ruin your life is certainly a malevolent world, and it is that world that Maupassant cynically tries to show we live in.
The advice Maupassant seems to give in “The Necklace” is “Don?t get aspire for more then you have, it will ruin you,” and he gives Mathilde as his example (Maupassant 3). In the first sentence of the story is “She was one of those pretty and charming women, born, as if by an error of destiny, into a family of clerks and copyists.” She deserved more, unlike her husband and most others, she was one of those rare human beings capable of enjoying life?s finer pleasures. I could imagine her today saving up money for one night at the King Cole rather then eating Applebee?s type food for a year. She all the feminine virtues: beauty, grace, charm, an inborn finesse, an engaging personality (3). She yearns to use her talents, if only she could have her chance. She finally does when she gets a chance to go to the Ministry of Education Ball, and she is a huge success, the life of the party, the envy of all the women there (6). For this one night of glory Maupassant takes away Mathilde?s bare middle-class life and plunges her into poverty.
I earlier compared “The Necklace” with “Cinderella,” but the story reminds me more of the myth of Icaris. Mathilde wanted more then what was given to her and used her natural talents to get what she aspired to. She did, and her only crime was trying to fly to high. Maupassant delights in melting her wings, and then cheapens her fall with his “ironic twist” at the end. Why someone would write such a vicious and cynical story is beyond me.