ENG 104, Prof. C. Agatucci
Midterm Literary Analysis Paper
26 October 2003
Plot and Character in Maupassant’s “The Necklace”
“Life…is composed of the most unpredictable, disparate, and contradictory elements,” according to Guy de Maupassant. “It is brutal, inconsequential, and disconnected, full of inexplicable, illogical catastrophes” (“The Writer’s Goal" 897). Utterly to the point with his words, Guy de Maupassant’s fame as a writer stemmed from his “direct and simple way” of telling readers what he observed (Chopin 861). His short story, “The Necklace,” is no exception. “The Necklace” is evidence of the literary realism that dominated literature during the 19th century. Cora Agatucci, a professor of Humanities, states that the subjects of literature during this time period revolved around “everyday events, lives, [and the] relationships of middle/lower class people” (Agatucci 2003). In “The Necklace,” Maupassant describes an unhappy woman, born to a poor family and married to a poor husband, who suffers “ceaselessly” from her lower-class lifestyle, “[…] feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries” (Maupassant 524). Through the unfolding of the plot and the exquisite characterization of Mathilde and her husband, Maupassant offers readers a dramatic account of what could happen when a person is not satisfied with her place in life.
Ann Charters defines plot as “the sequence of events in a story and their relation to one another as they develop and usually resolve a conflict” (Charters1003). According to Charters, there are five major parts of a plot. The exposition explains the characters, the time period, and the present situation; the rising action introduces a major complication, with smaller conflicts occurring along the way; the climax, or the dramatic
turning point in the action of the story; the falling action, which helps wrap up the major complication; and finally, the conclusion of the story (Charters 1004-1005).
Plot plays a vital role in “The Necklace,” particularly the exposition. Approximately one page is devoted entirely to Mathilde’s description, a description of both her physical appearance as well as her mentality, giving the readers a crystal clear picture of the main character and the reasons behind her depression. Mathilde “dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station,” undoubtedly a station of wealth and prosperity in her mind. Suffering “from the poverty of her dwelling,” Mathilde often dreamt of “silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra” when her own drab furniture and dreary walls angered her to look at them (Maupassant 524). The exposition paints Mathilde as a woman who feels she’s been dealt a poor hand in life, a woman desiring riches far beyond her grasp, which foreshadows the events to come later in the plot.
“The action of the plot is performed by the characters in the story, the people who make something happen or produce an effect” (Charters 1006). Without the characters, the plot would be meaningless because the characters bring the plot to life. Charters also explains that characters can be one of two types: dynamic or static. A static character does not change throughout the story; he or she just stays the same, while a dynamic character is often described as “round” and often changes throughout the course of the story (Charters 1007). The way an author chooses to develop a character affects the entire story, particularly the climax. If a character developed as a calm and level headed
person, he or she will react wisely to conflicts or emotional turning points; however, if a character is developed as greedy and self absorbed, the climax of the story will cause the character to make irrational choices in the face of conflict, as Mathilde, the dynamic main character of “The Necklace” illustrates.
Mathilde’s character is consistently unhappy with her own life and her own possessions, always longing for more than what she has. When her husband brings home the invitation to the ball, hoping his wife will be thrilled at the chance to attend such an exclusive gathering, she instead “threw the invitation on the table with disdain,” because she had nothing to wear. At her husband’s suggestion of wearing her theater dress, she simply cries with grief. When the dress dilemma is resolved, Mathilde is “sad, uneasy, [and] anxious” (Maupassant 525). Her lack of fine jewelry and gems makes her feel that she “should almost rather not go at all” (Maupassant 526). Clearly, Mathilde’s character is one with an insatiable greed for what she does not have.
Later in the story, after the precious necklace has been lost, Mathilde’s character appears to change, taking on the role of a poor woman with “heroism.” As she is forced to scrub dishes, wash laundry, and bargain with their “miserable” money, the reader would assume Mathilde has been humbled by her greed and the price she paid for insisting on wearing the diamond necklace. The reader questions the extent of Mathilde’s transformation when Mathilde sits at her window and ponders the evening of the ball, remembering her beauty and the attention she received.
Contrary to Mathilde is her husband, M. Loisel, a character who remains static throughout the course of “The Necklace.” M. Loisel seems happy with the small things
in life, desiring only please his wife. When he sits down to a supper of soup, he exclaims, “Ah, the good pot-au-feu! I don’t know anything better than that” (Maupassant 524). Meanwhile, Mathilde is picturing food she feels she is worthy of, like “the pink flesh of a trout or the wings of a quail” (Maupassant 524). M. Loisel does look his patience once with his wife, saying to her, “How stupid you are!” (Maupassant 526) when she is upset about her lack of jewelry. Other than that small episode, M. Loisel remains fairly consistent throughout the length of the story.
The construction of the plot, such as the dramatic climax when Mathilde realizes she has lost the necklace, combined with the shaping of the two main characters, Mathilde and her husband, force the reader to realize the unspoken theme of the story. Mathilde’s envy of other people’s possessions leads to the eventual demise of her life, while her husband’s contentment with what he has allows him to remain essentially unchanged, illustrates the theme running throughout the story, which is the importance of being satisfied with who you are and what you have, as well as the importance of not wanting or envying what other’s have. This theme becomes obvious when, in the exposition, Mathilde’s perspective on her life makes her seem poor and underprivileged; yet, when the Loisels are forced to make drastic changes in their way of life, such as firing their maid and moving to more economical lodging, the reader realizes the poverty Mathilde suffers from is not poverty at all compared to the life they must lead after they are forced to replace the diamond necklace.
Without a strong plot that envelops the reader in the ongoing action, a story is not as powerful or effective; without good characterization of the main characters, there is no
mechanism for the plot to unfold. If there is not an effective plot with identifiable characters, the theme of any story is lost to the reader, so clearly the three go hand in hand with each other. Maupassant’s ability to communicate facts and descriptions, leaving the emotional interpretation for the reader, is what he’s known for. In fact, this ability makes the reader feel as though Maupassant is telling the story for their ears and hearts only. Kate Chopin eloquently wrote, “I like to cherish the delusion that he has spoken to no one else so directly, so intimately as he does to me” (Chopin 862).
Agatucci, Cora (Professor of English, Humanities Dept., Central Oregon Community
College). “Emergence of the Short Story: Literary Romanticism and Realism-Poe
and Maupassant.” Handout & In-Class Presentation, English 104: Introduction to
Literature-Fiction, Central Oregon Community College [Bend, OR], Fall 2003.
Charters, Ann. “The Elements of Fiction.” [header note.] The Story and Its Writer: An
Introduction to Short Fiction. Compact 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 1003-1015.
Charters, Ann. “Guy de Maupassant” [header note.] The Story and Its Writer: An
Introduction to Short Fiction. Compact 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 523.
Chopin, Kate. “How I Stumbled upon Maupassant.” [First published 1969.] Rpt. The
Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters.
Compact 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 861-862.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Necklace.” [First published 1884.] Rpt. The Story and Its
Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 6th ed.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 524-530.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Writer’s Goal.” [First published 1888.] Rpt. The Story and Its
Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 6th ed.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 896-898.
Description:The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to very closely examine a work of literature. Your central idea in this essay will focus on the work of literature as a whole or focus on one particular element in a longer text. Some common types of literary analysis essay focus on analyzing a theme, a character or a symbol. You may analyze a poem, a short story or a novel.
Topic: The Symbolism of the Shell in Lord of the Flies.
Literary Analysis Example
For centuries, philosophers have grappled with the question of whether mankind is inherently good or evil. In his novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding examines this question through a story about what happens after a small plane carrying British schoolboys crashes on a desert island. Because no adults survived the crash, the boys were on their own to govern themselves and await a rescue. As the story unfolds, the boys are forced to organize themselves outside of civilized society. Throughout the story, Golding uses the symbol of the conch shell to represent civilization and democracy.
From the beginning, the conch shell functions as a tool for establishing a civil order. When Ralph, a character who would become a leader among the boys, first finds the conch shell, he blows it like a horn to gather all the boys together. Once the boys emerged from the tropical jungle to gather near Ralph, he ?smiled and held up the conch for silence." At that moment, the attempt at creating an orderly civilization begins. The conch shell is initially used as a tool for both gathering together and establishing leadership.
Another symbolic use for the conch shell occurs during the scenes involving the boys' assembly. The intention of the assembly is to form a governing body. Ralph is chosen as a leader in part because he found and used the conch shell first. When the boys vote for a leader, they exclaim ?Him with the shell. Ralph! Ralph! Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing." Here, the conch shell represents the power vested in ralph as the decision-maker among the boys. The shell is an image of the fair, democratic microcosm of civilization that the boys hoped to invoke.
Gradually, however, the boys lose their connection with the conch shell, signifying their momentum towards giving in to disorder and chaos. Both Piggy and Ralph use the conch shell as a horn any time they feel that their makeshift civilization is falling apart, in an effort to gather the boys. When some of the boys start a fire on the island and Piggy attempts to use the conch to stop them, he is rebuked by Jack who is beginning to express rebellion and evil. The conch doesn't count up on top of the mountain," said Jack. When such limitations are placed on the power of the conch, the boys begin to lose respect for the established civil order.
Further, as the island civilization degenerates, so does the conch shell itself. Jack diminishes the power of the conch when he proclaims that "we don't need the conch anymore." At this point, Jack's assertion links the demise of the conch's power with a dramatic shift in the civil order. Golding's descriptions of the conch shell also show that it has literally lost its color and luster over time, physically mirroring the eroding social situation. Additionally, the scene where Jack steals Piggy's glasses instead of stealing the conch shell shows how the shell was no longer valued.
Finally, the conch shell is literally crushed by a boulder. This occurs when Piggy was holding the shell and was intentionally murdered by the boys pushing rocks upon him. The complete destruction of the conch, a symbol of fair and just civilization, corresponds with this deliberately evil act. The conch shell was the ultimate civilizing influence on the island. With its destruction, the group was given license to slide into savagery, evil and disorder. Through the symbol of the conch shell, Golding communicated that evil is an inevitable aspect of man if the conditions arise for its expression.