Theme of Reality vs. Appearances in “the Necklace”

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Theme of Reality vs. Appearances in “The Necklace”

Henri Rene Albert Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850 in the chateau de Miromesnil near Dieppe, Normandy. He lived in Fecamp, France until age twelve (when his parents separated) then moved with his mother to a villa in Etretat, France. Home-schooled, except for a brief stay at a boarding school when he was thirteen, Maupassant ran free for most of his school years. Maupassant attended university in Paris, where he began to study law, and then served in the army in the Franco-Prussian war.

Guy de Maupassant’s stories were realistic portrayals of everyday life, based on what he knew best: peasants, the war of 1870, and the lives of government employees and of Parisian high society (Donaldson-Evans 1). Maupassant excels in the way he portrays low-ranking civil servants since he served as a clerk in the Ministry of Public Instruction from 1878-82 (Adamson 1, Donaldson-Evans 3). In fact, he knew better than any other writer how such men struggle to keep up appearances while “living on the breadline.” (Adamson 1) Maupassant’s theme of reality versus appearance and its effects on the characters in his story “The Necklace” takes the reader through what can happen when someone tries to appear wealthier or better off than he/she is in reality.

In Guy de Maupassant’s story “The Necklace” an omniscient narrator describes the events of how a very unhappy clerk’s wife, while trying to appear wealthier than she is at a ball given by the Minister of Public Instruction, loses a “diamond” necklace she borrowed from her wealthier friend. The story takes place in 19th century Paris, France where the reader meets the clerk’s wife, who is a pretty young woman, who has always yearned for the finer things in life. Being a clerk’s wife did not allow her to have as many of the finer things in life that she would like to have. When she was finally invited to a ball at the minister’s palace, she gets a taste of the finer lifestyle but after she loses her friend’s necklace she gets a taste of the poverty she thought she was in (but in truth she wasn’t) by having to pay back the debt incurred to replace the necklace. That’s what happens when a person tries to appear wealthier or better off than he/she is.

Madame Loisel is the protagonist in the story, a very pretty young woman who has always yearned for the wealth and privilege that was denied her due to being born into a family of clerks. She is a perfect example of reality versus appearance. While she dressed plainly because she could not afford to dress fancy she’s tortured by things that other women of her rank would never be conscious of and is angry at her status in life (de Maupassant 413). When her husband comes home with an invitation to a ball given by the Minister of Public Instruction she gets upset because she has no dress, no jewels or anything to wear to this ball. She knows that costly clothes and “adornments” will transform her appearance from that of a lowly clerk’s wife into that of a lady of distinction (“Guy de Maupassant” 5). Even though they could afford to buy her a dress, there was no way she could afford to buy any jewelry to go with it. She ends up asking her wealthier friend for some kind of jewelry to wear to the ball. When she visits with her friend, Mme. Forestier, she discovers a “diamond” necklace in a black satin box and knows that she has found what she is looking for. By the night of the ball she had all that she needed to “appear” wealthy, even though in reality she is still the wife of a ministerial clerk.

During the ball she is a success, she’s prettier than all the ladies and all the men looked at her and wanted to be introduced to her. The necklace and dress she wore represented that which is usually out of reach for a civil servant, but serves as a way into the society of the “leisure class”, or at least for the night (Themes and Construction 3). Everyone including by the...
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