"The Necklace" By De Maupassant: Through The Lens Of Marxism

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Beginning in the 19th century, during a time of economic upheaval and social inequality, the critical theory of Marxism was published. This theory created by the philosopher Karl Marx aimed to address the economic and political division between the upper and lower class, or the Bourgeoisie (upper) and the Proletariat (lower). Though this theory was published in the 19th century, the issue between the struggling lower class and the prospering upper had been a complicated social issue for hundreds of years. While a few prospered with wealth and power, others experience enduring hardship. During the time in which the theory of Marxism was published, there was a fascinating short story written by a Frenchman. “The Necklace” written by Guy De Maupassant in 1884 was an award-winning story at its time and it had an excellent grasp on the divide between the powerful and the undermined. 

Centered around a young, lower-class couple, this excellent story showed how the couple, in particular, the wife, had an irresistible unhealthy desire for the expensive things in life. However, through the ironic and foreshadowed ending, this story ultimately grasps the reader’s attention using portraying the message that the desire for wealth is not always healthy. Through this, we can see how the short story “The Necklace” has an excellent contrasting representation of the connection between the lower and upper-class society through the critical lens of Marxism. This can be seen in the fundamental aspects of the author’s background, the importance of Marxism, as well as how “The Necklace” connects to these particular issues.

During a time of extreme social inequality and economic disparity, Guy De Maupassant, known for his famous short story “The Necklace” was a writer and philosopher that had an excellent understanding of the social class structure in France. Born in 1850, De Maupassant was introduced into a Borgeiosies family that was particularly wealthy. Growing up with his single mom and brother, he was sent to many different schools that allowed him to develop his growing love for poetry and writing. However, it was not until he served in the army under his literary mentor Gustave Flaubert that he truly pursued his career in the literary arts. He was able to grasp society from a lower-class perspective, despite his upper-class upbringing. ​“He presents his characters dispassionately, foregoing any personal ​moral judgment on them but always noting the word, the gesture, or even the reticence that betrays each one’s essential personality, all the while ​enhancing the effect by describing the physical and social background against which his characters move. Concision, vigor, and the most rigorous economy are the characteristics of his art.”

In essence, De Maupassant’s writing was famous for its ability to capture social backgrounds in a way that did not involve discrimination against characters of different classes. This was evident in many of De Maupassant’s. Ultimately he combined his knowledge of the upper class with the protagonist Proletariat character to create a bridge that many people during that time could not perceive.

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The lens of Marxism, created by the philosopher Karl Marx was an attempt to view society from two different perspectives. One perspective, from the view of the upper class, was that abusing the lower class for material gain was something that was common practice. Conversely, the lower class always had the desire to obtain that same power and would stop at nothing to gain that power. This is seen in many different stories, most commonly in Rags Riches-type novels. However, in “The Necklace”, instead of focusing on only one aspect of society’s lens, both sides of the social divide are focused on through the struggles of the characters. Guy De Maupassant lived in a time in which the divide between the rich and the poor was at a critical point. With high levels of disease and poor working conditions, France in the late 19th century was a country that had many socio-political issues. Labour was in high demand and the majority of the working population were in labor-intensive jobs that provided very low pay and demanding working hours. This issue created a divide between a large lower class and a small privileged upper class that abused its power. This problem in France was known as Les Miserables. A novel by this name, written by Victor Hugot, focused on the struggle of the lower class in Paris and how the upper class abused the labor of its citizens to live outrageous and unsustainable lives. A report labeled “What About the Poor” written by Edward R. Udovic, published by the Vincentian Heritage Journal, described in-depth how serious this social divide was in France during the 19th century. “The poor of Paris-its men and women, it’s elderly, its adolescents, its children, and its infants-all paid the comprehensive human costs of this industrialized and capitalistic ‘urban pathology.’” 

From this quote about the urban pathology of France, we can see how the lower class all paid the “comprehensive human costs” of life. In my opinion, Guy De Maupassant used the relevance of Les Miserables and his experience to write the short story “The Necklace”. His experience living in France during this time of great social division allowed him to write a story that perfectly captured the essence of what Marxism hoped to address.

The short story “The Necklace” written by Guy De Maupassant was an excellent piece of literature that captured the theory of Marxism through its struggling characters. Based on a lower-class couple living in the 19th century France the story focused on how these two people, in particular, the wife, always had the desire to rise above the struggling lower class. ​“She dreamed of vast living rooms furnished in rare old silks, elegant furniture loaded with priceless ornaments, and inviting smaller rooms, perfumed, made for afternoon chats with close friends – famous, sought after men, who all women envy and desire.” This story took a turn when the young couple was invited to attend an elegant party. With an opportunity to look important, the wife, Mathilde snapped at every opportunity that would make her forget about the class she came from. 

From borrowing expensive necklaces and pearls, Mathilde used up all the money she and her husband had to change her appearance. With this, came the time when Mathilde borrowed the famous “Necklace” from one of her friends. “Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her heart began to beat with uncontrolled desire”. This again points to the unhealthy desire that Mathilde has for wealth and appearance. However, later on in the story, the climax presents itself through Mathilde losing the priceless necklace. As a result, this young couple worked tirelessly for the next 10 years to replace the lost necklace. When the couple had finally saved enough money to buy a new diamond necklace, the story makes another twist with an ironic ending. “Oh, my poor Mathilde! Mine was an imitation! It was worth five hundred ​francs ​at most!…​”. ​From this quote, we can ultimately see how the greed for wealth and materials in one night, cost the young couple a large chunk of their lives. As well we can see how this moment of black irony highlights the yearnings of the lower class during this time and is a symbol of Marxism. The symbol is that Mathilde represents Marxism in the sense that she tried to rectify her low standing but ended up being cheated anyway.

In conclusion, the short story shows the connection between France’s lower and upper-class society through the lens of Marxism and how ultimately, the aspirations of the rich came to naught, and the hope of the masses (Marxist ideology) ended in disillusionment.

Works Cited:

  1. Dumesnil, René, and Martin Turnell. “Mature Life and Works.” ​Encyclopædia
  2. Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Sept. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Guy-de-Maupassant/Mature-life-and-works.
  3. Udovic, Edward R. “What About the Poor?’ Nineteenth-Century Paris and the Revival of Vincentian Charity.” ​Vincentian Heritage Journal, 1993,via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1117&context=vhj.
  4. Guy, De Maupassant. “The Necklace” Written ​1884, Rossman, ​December 2019. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Guy-de-Maupassant/Mature-life-and-works
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