16 March 2016

A Good Story

Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Necklace sparked my lifelong interest in literature after I read it in junior high. Its twisted and ironic ending has remained in my mind for many years later. I read it again this week and found myself still very much absorbed in its plot, setting and style (spoil alert thereafter. To read it, click the above red marked link). It tells a story of an unhappy middle-class married girl, Mathilde Loisel, who dreams of a much more glamorous existence. As the result of her vanity, Mathilde pays a heavy price when she borrows a diamond necklace from her wealthy friend for an once-in-a-lifetime event but loses it afterwards. The story hooks me because it opens with protagonist’s external and internal conflicts in the first couple of paragraphs: “She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks”, “She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station”, “She suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries”. These conflicts are intensified as the story continues with the contrast of Mathilde’s environment and her dreamy inner world. Her home is full of wretched walls, worn-out chairs, ugly curtains… whereas she thinks of “antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry”, “tall bronze candelabra”, elegant footmen, silky salons etc. The setting deeply affects the character and propels the plot. I can’t stop turning the pages to find out how she would prepare for the extravagant party at the palace of the Ministry and what would happen to her at the party and if the conflicts would resolve. The plot takes several turns to keep me engaged with the story: she uses all her husband’s meager savings to buy a dress and borrows a diamond necklace; she fulfills her wildest dream and succeeds at the party; but then she loses the diamond; and then she has to work manual labor as a lowly working girl for the next decade to repay the debt of the replacement necklace; and then only to find out in the very end that the diamond necklace she borrows is fake and worthless.

The story is mainly plot-driven with precise language, fast pace and an anti-climatic ending. Other than the plot and the setting, the style the author employs such as irony and symbolism also contributes to the story’s timeless quality. The title, the center object of the story,  symbolizes the difference between surface and hidden value. The author’s lack of sympathy toward the protagonist creates a dramatic irony throughout the piece and this irony is punctuated by its shocking ending. For me, these elements stand out in this story and make it a rich and rewarding reading experience.

Happy reading and writing.