Sunday, July 22, 2012

Emblems, Signs, and Symbols In Maupassant’s Necklace

Essay 4 — Of Emblems, Signs, and Symbols In Maupassant’s Necklace
Guy de Maupassant short story “The Necklace” is a tale of fulfilled and unfulfilled fantasies, of gratification and privation, of long unhappiness and brief glimmers of happiness. For being only a mini story it contains the elements of a grandiose tale that tells much not only about the cast of characters, but also about the French nation—its stratified society and its human condition.
How then does Maupassant achieve such great density of ideas in such a brief work? The answer lies in his skillful use of emblems, signs, and symbols. American philosopher Ralph W. Emerson wrote in his essay on Nature: “It is not works only that are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.” In this light, I can see how Maupassant used every natural fact and every appearance in nature as emblems, signs, and symbols to depict the heroine’s —Mme. Loisel— state of mind. Nothing in Maupassant’s selection of detail is wasted; everything has a function within the story; and these vary from the most humble and mundane object to the ostentatious and sophisticated necklace.

Symbols of Materialism and Wealth

The unnamed narrator repeatedly lingers on the material possessions that Mme. Loisel treasures in her fantasies:
… she imagined delicate meals, gleaming silver, tapestries peopling the walls with folk of a past age and strange birds in fairy forests; she imagined delicate food served in marvelous china plates, murmured gallantries, listened to with a sphinxlike smile as one ate the rosy flesh of trout or the wings of a quail.
What the unfortunate Mme. Loisel dreams of is banquets, parties, and fabulous dinners. But besides focusing on “delicate meals,” “delicate food, ” and delicacies such as “the rosy flesh of trout or the wings of a quail,” she fills hers senses with exotic kinesthetic sensations:
She imagined silent antechambers, padded with Oriental tapestries, lit by torches in lofty bronze candelabra, with two tall footmen in knee-breeches sleeping in large arm-chairs, drowsy with the heavy warmth of the stove. She imagined vast salons hung with antique silks, exquisite pieces of furniture displaying priceless ornaments, and small, charming, perfumed rooms, created just for little five-PM parties of intimate friends, men who were celebrities and sought after and who roused every other woman's envious longings.

Every detail —natural fact— that the narrator employs justly corresponds to Mme. Loisel’ “states of minds,” as Emerson aptly described above.

Signs of Low Status

Just as natural facts may be the objective correlatives of states of mind that are wishful thinking of wealth and opulence, they can also be the embodiments of poverty. Mme. Loisel cannot escape the cold reality of her fate; her inescapable fate. The author Guy de Maupassant follows the pattern set by writers of the naturalistic school, in which the ills of society and of the human body determine one’s fate: She suffered from the poverty of her house, from its mean walls, the worn-out chairs, and the ugly curtains. All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and irritated her. In a poignant passage, both husband and wife must face reality when the ball ends: He threw over her shoulders the garments he had brought for them to go home in, modest everyday clothes, whose poverty clashed with the beauty of the ball-dress. Conscious of this, she was anxious to hurry away, so that she should not be noticed by the other women putting on their expensive furs.

The Diamond Necklace as a Symbol of Hierarchy and Doom

Mme. Loisel —the heroine— is portrayed as an unhappy woman who isn’t satisfied with her vulgar life as the wife of a low level Government clerk. At the precise instant that she chooses the necklace as the appropriate jewel for the Minister’s ball, she seals her fate.
Such fated diamond necklace will in due course become the noose that will deprive her for ten years of the air of youth and enjoyment of life. Of all the precious stones, diamonds occupy the pinnacle of the hierarchy. Not only are they emblem of elegance, and opulence, abut also of brilliance and intelligence. Given Mme. Loisel’s low status in the social hierarchy, she dreams of belonging in high society; perhaps even leapfrogging to that level despite her lack of fortune, connections, and intelligence. Yet, it is her beauty what nurtures her unreachable longings, what kindles her internal fires to mimic a life of languid opulence, to imitate and pass as real as false diamonds can be taken for real jewels.
But the ultimate symbolic irony lies in the fake diamond necklace itself, for it is this same object what condemns Mme. Loisel to ten years of hard labor.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant - Essay 2

Essay 2 — Can Diamonds Buy Happiness?

Read Maupassant's "The Necklace," available in KINDLE $1.99 If you don't own a KINDLE at this time you may download "Maupassant's The Collar" into your computer for only $0.99. Use the Paypal button below:

With his short story "The Diamond Necklace," Guy de Maupassant confronts the basic difference between apparent value and true value—appearance versus reality. Or, as Oscar Wilde once remarked in his novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray: “Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Was the Ball a Happy Night or a Woeful Nightmare?

Mathilde Loisel, the middle-class wife of an insignificant clerk, is the protagonist of the story: she dreams of a life of luxury in which she sees herself as being surrounded by comfort, objets d'art, eating fine and exotic food, wearing elegant clothing, and much of what comprises her idea of an affluent life in rich society might be.

Right from the outset the narrator tells that though born to a low family she feels as if she was destined for better things, and all this because of her beauty. Her problems begin to develop when her husband brings home a most coveted ball invitation from the Ministry of education where he works. At the ball high functionaries and people of distinction will be in attendance.

The evening of the ball, clad in a brand new dress and wearing a borrowed necklace from a rich friend, she dazzles the guests —to include the Minister himself— and dances with giddy abandonment, intoxicated by her success. Never had she ever experienced the hour of happiness as she did that night. Or as William Wordsworth said in his poem “Ode to Immortality:” it was the “hour of splendor in the grass, the glory of the flower.”

After the ball, when she and her husband get ready to leave, an abrupt jolt of reality hits her as she puts on her shabby coat; a secondary tremor brings her back to her ordinary life as they take a low taxi cab; those dilapidated cabs that because of their shabby look only come out at night. Her joyous triumphal night turns into a woeful nightmare when she realizes that she has lost the borrowed diamond necklace!

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing Mathilde's borrows the diamond necklace from her rich friend —Mme. Forestier— because she imagines that diamonds are the emblem of wealth and success. But she knows nothing about them. Her limited life experience prevents her seeing what is real and what is not. Overwhelmed by the appearance of the impressive velvet box and the shiny stones, she chooses the fated diamond necklace. Her choice satisfies her wild imagination. Both husband and wife know the price of things, yet nothing of their value. To replace the lost diamond necklace they mortgage ten years of their life —during which they lived in abject poverty— in order to pay for the cost of the necklace—thirty-six thousand francs.

Can the price the Loisels pay for one night of Mathilde’s happiness be fair? More than a moral judgment, the answer seems to be one of distributive justice: punishment for an attempt at social climbing. That seems to be the lesson. Conclusion From the text we know that the husband is inconsequential, that Mathilde is the protagonist and the heroine —or anti-heroine, if we look at her failings— and catalyst of what happens in her world. But in assessing blame one should not make Mathilde the scapegoat of the story. Plenty of blame is there to go around! The mediocre, unambitious, and weak husband isn’t free from guilt. Likewise, Mathilde’s rich friend, Mme. Forestier, should also bear responsibility for not admitting that she owns fake jewelry; and what is even more offensive to the readers, that she doesn’t tell Mathilde the cheap price of the imitation necklace.

In an ideal and fair world, Mathilde should have asked —right there and then— for a restitution of thirty-five thousand five-hundred francs—the difference between the price of the fake and true value of the real diamond necklace. But that is out of the realm of the text.

Yet, to a large degree, it is the stratification of society, the social classes, what causes dissatisfaction in people. Even the Minister and the high functionaries are bamboozled and dazzled by the superficial beauty of an imaginative common wife clad in a new dress and a fake diamond necklace.

Read Maupassant's "The Necklace" now available in KINDLE $1.99 If you don't own a KINDLE at this time you may download "Maupassant's The Collar" into your computer for only $0.99. Use the Paypal button below:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guy de Mauppasant

The following is a brief introductory essay to my new book on Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Necklace." This ebook is now available in kindle

Guy de Maupassant Brief Biography

Read "Selected Maupassant's "The Necklace" now available in KINDLE $1.99 If you don't own a KINDLE at this time you may download "Maupassant's The Collar" into your computer for only $0.99. Use the Paypal button below:

Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850 on the coast of Normandy. His paternal ancestors were noble, and his maternal grandfather, Paul Le Poittevin, was Gustave Flaubert's godfather. Maupassant’s parents separated when he was 11 years old, and he stayed with his mother. At 13 he was enrolled in a seminary, an austere school which he disliked, and from which he was expelled for writing offensive poetry. In college —at Rouen— he befriended his mother’s friend Gustave Flaubert.

Guy de Maupassant Occupations:

In 1869 he moved to Paris to study law. When the Franco-Prussian War broke (1870), Guy de Maupassant served in the army, as a private, for two years. Afterwards he became a government clerk, first in the ministry of the navy and later in the ministry of education.
These low level jobs were a means of support, since he never intended to become a career civil servant. At night and weekends he gave his time to writing. During this time Flaubert took him under his wing, encouraging, tutoring, and introducing him to his literary circle. The Parisian circle included luminaries such as American writer Henry James, Russian novelist Turgenev, and Emile Zola. By his association with the latter and his themes, Maupassant was considered a writer of the naturalistic school.

Literary Production

Early in 1880, Maupassant started to publish a series of short stories, which gained him quick recognition as a literary writer. He went on to publish more than 300 short stories, six novels, and travel books, articles for magazines as well as for newspapers, and poetry. But what distinguished him and was acclaimed for was his mastery of the short story.
While Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) attempted to capture the spirit French society with his Comédie humaine —volumes of interlinked novels— Maupassant did it with a great variety of short stories, stories which included a wide range of themes affecting the different strata and regions of the French nation.

Guy de Maupassant Madness and Death

Having been affected by syphilis from his early 20's, Guy de Maupassant’s condition deteriorated, causing him an increasing mental disorder. Given the dark and horrific bent of some of his stories, some critics have ascribed that to his incurable illness.
After a botched suicide attempt in 1891, Guy de Maupassant spent the last two years of his life in a Paris mental home. At the age of 43, in 1893, he finally succumbed to the fatal illness that had plagued most his adult life.

Read "Selected Maupassant's "The Necklace" now available in KINDLE $1.99 If you don't own a KINDLE at this time you may download "Maupassant's The Collar" into your computer for only $0.99. Use the Paypal button below: