Critical Analysis of "The Necklace" Short Story

The short story, The Necklace, by Guy De Maupassant, follows the life of a woman and her husband living in France in the early 1880’s. The woman, Mathilde, is a very materialistic person who is never content with anything in her life. Her husband, a lowly clerk in the Ministry of Education, is not a rich man, but he brings home enough to get by. He enjoys the simpler things in life, yet his wife, Mathilde, cannot. Nothing is good enough for her. Her selfish ways are evident in her attitude toward the material things in her home environment and in the way she treats her husband.

Mathilde’s materialistic attitude is primarily shown by how unhappy she is with her surroundings and her home environment in general. One night, Matilde’s husband brings home, from work, an invitation to a dinner party. When he mentions the invitation, Mathilde’s first thought is of what she is going to wear to the party. She does not worry about her husband, his feelings regarding the invitation, or how much fun they may have at the dinner party. She only worries about how she will look and what other people will think of her. Mathilde is unhappy with her darkened rooms and furniture and desires better things:

She imagined large drawing rooms draped in the most expensive silks, with fine end tables on which were placed knickknacks of inimitable value. She dreamed of the perfume of dainty private rooms, which were designed only for intimate tête-à-têtes with the closest friends, who because of their achievements and fame would make her the envy of all other women. (4)

These dreams and aspirations demonstrate that Mathilde’s thoughts are in the wrong place; and go to show how materialistic she really is. Mathilde first rejects the invitation. She only agrees to go to the party after her husband painstakingly bargains with her, and ends up having to buy her a new dress to get her to come. Even after getting a new dress, Mathilde still wants more. She complains to her husband that she, “[doesn’t] have any jewels to wear, not a single gem, nothing to dress up [her] outfit.” (6) She whines to her husband that she would rather stay home than go to the party looking like a vagabond. But finally, after more griping, she is persuaded by her husband to borrow some jewels from Mrs. Forrestier, and they go to the party. Mathilde’s materialistic view is also seen in the way she acts after the dinner party. When leaving the party at four o’clock in the morning, Mathilde’s husband goes to put, “a modest everyday wrap which contrasted with the elegance of her evening gown”(5) over her shoulders, and she runs from him. She runs so that none of the other women, draped in elegant furs will see her and look down upon her for wearing such a thing. Both of these incidents emphasize the fact that Mathilde is a very selfish and materialistic person both in her actions and in her thoughts and daydreams.

Another way that Mathilde’s selfish character is portrayed is through the way she treats her husband. She treats him as if he is a slave, who exists for no other reason but to be blamed for things gone wrong in her life, and for her to order around. Mathilde gives her husband no love, praise, or thanks for any of the sacrifices he makes for her. An example of this occurs in the beginning of the story when Mathilde basically blames her husband because she is not living the life she dreams of. While her husband has adjusted himself to the plain life that they live, Mathilde has not, and she resents him for that. Another example of the materialistic and selfish way that Mathilde treats her husband is when her husband brings home the invitation. Even though her husband is ecstatic at the thought of going to this extravagant dinner, Mathilde basically throws the invitation back into his face:

She looked at him angrily and stated impatiently: “What do you expect me to wear to go there?” He had not thought of that. He stammered: “But your theater dress. That seems nice to me. . .” He stopped, amazed and bewildered, as his wife began to cry. . . He said falteringly: “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” . . . “Nothing, except that I have nothing to wear and therefore can’t go to the party. Give your invitation to someone else at the office whose wife will have nicer clothes than mine. (5)

Mathilde is so self-centered that she would make her husband, who wants to go to this party so badly, give up the invitation because she has nothing to wear. She again displays her materialistic and selfish ways when, after the party, she discovers that she has lost her borrowed necklace and makes her husband go out at four o’clock in the morning to look for it. He looks for hours and finds nothing, but doesn’t give up there. He goes to the police and cab services, while Mathilde, “waited the entire day, in the same enervated state,”(8). She does nothing while her husband is doing everything he possibly can to save her neck. Finally, after all hope is lost of finding the vanished necklace, the couple bought a new one for thirty-six thousand francs. They had to work and save for ten years, and the husband gave up his inheritance to pay for the necklace his wife lost. And after all he did, Mathilde offers not one bit of thanks or praise to her husband. This emphasizes just how evident her characteristic flaws really are.

Throughout the story, Mathilde is portrayed as selfish and materialistic. These traits are shown through her unhappy manner towards her middle class life and through the awful way she treats her husband after all he does for her. Maybe after such a long, tiresome ten years of scrounging up money to buy a new necklace to replace the lost one, Mathilde will change her ways. Perhaps she will realize how much she really has in life, may it be material things or love from her husband, and stop constantly worrying about what she does not have. Maybe she will even recognize how much her husband gives to her and how little he receives in return.

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