Guy de Maupassant revolutionized the short story over the brief span of his literary career, which barely surmounted a decade. In addition to masterworks like “Boule de Suif,” Maupassant achieved renown as the witty creator of stories like “The Necklace,” which relies upon a surprise twist for its impact. Despite the gimmick that underlies its construction, “The Necklace” reveals much about Maupassant’s insights into life and art.
The Class System
Maupassant, whose career paralleled the 19th-century rise of socialism in France, was a writer deeply engaged with the problem of class conflict. In “The Necklace,” Maupassant investigates the problem of material desire in a consumer culture. Mathilde suffers in the want for the luxury she observes in upper-class dinners and balls. Her attempt to mimic this lifestyle results in the story’s climax and denouement, when a piece of costume jewelry leads to her ruin and ironically reduces her to the impoverished state she sought to overcome.
Culture of Materialism
Maupassant wrote during a period known as the “Belle Epoque,” a time known for its sensuality and materialism. Predating the horrors of World War I and the Great Depression, the Belle Epoque was a period of ease and enjoyment for the intellectual class that Maupassant belonged to. Maupassant, in addition to writers like Emile Zola and Joris-Karl Huysmans, reflected upon the inherent vanity of materialism in their short stories and novels. “The Necklace” communicates a cynical opinion on the merits of wealth in its critical portrayal of Mathilde’s pursuit of luxury, which leads to her eventual ruin.
The Literary Turn
Maupassant makes use of an ironic reveal at the end of “The Necklace” in a manner similar to that of the short stories of O. Henry and the surprises contained in the works of Charles Dickens. Unbeknownst to the reader, characters persist in modes of action antithetical to their aims. In “The Necklace,” Mathilde sells herself as a domestic for years in order to repay the value of a piece of jewelry she finally learns is a fake. Maupassant here displays the ultimate inscrutability of fate and the inability of people to predict the circumstances of their destiny.
The sheer volume of Maupassant’s output often obscures the achievement of his artistry in stories like “The Necklace.” The economy of his writing had a discernible impact upon Ernest Hemingway, who incorporated Maupassant’s use of irony into short stories like “Hills Like White Elephants.” As one of his most famous stories, “The Necklace” also links Maupassant to other writers enamored of the surprise ending, such as Saki, who makes use of the device in stories like “Cousin Theresa.”