Thursday, August 1, 2013

Guy de Maupassant's The Necklace: Writing Techniques

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Essay 3 — Writing Techniques

In the opening paragraph of the story we learn that an anonymous and totally omniscient narrator is telling the story. The voice of this narrator is assertive, opinionated, and seems to know many details about the protagonist:
She was one of those pretty and charming girls born — as though fate had erred— into a family of clerks. She had no marriage dowry, no expectations, no means of getting known, understood, loved, or wedded by a man of wealth and distinction; and she let herself be married off to a little clerk in the Ministry of Education.
Lots of information is packed in the opening paragraph: that the heroine is pretty, of a working class status, single, and submissive (since she lets herself be married off).

Almost immediately the narrator tells readers that she —Mme. Loisel— has a vivid imagination and what she imagines frequently are escapist visions, grandiose visions that clash with her ordinary reality. This is intimation that she is unhappy with her lot. Ironically, her fulfilled fantasies —which should have brought happiness to her— bring her nothing but pain, poverty, and misery; a ruined life. The adage “beware of what you wish for,” seems to fit her.

Not only does the narrator focus on objective reality, but also in her subjectivity: She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing, yet these were the only things she loved, feeling that she was made for them. For so long she had wished so eagerly to charm, to be envied, to be wildly seductive—courted.

When a narrator tells about the intimate feelings and thoughts of a character, readers can tell that the narrator is getting “inside the characters’ heads.” And like a god, the narrator can “see” what is inside characters. Notice what happens in this passage:
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin case, a superb diamond necklace; her heart began to beat with insane desire. Her hands trembled as she lifted it. She fastened it round her neck, upon her high dress, and remained in ecstasy at her own reflection.
Here we the narrator makes us visualize objects: the black satin case, the diamond necklace itself, and we can also see her hand shaking. But not content with this objective description, the voice of the narrator tells us that her “heart began to beat with insane desire,” and that she “remained in ecstasy at her own reflection.” Only a god can know these details; which confirms that we are following the story as told by a complete omniscient narrator, acting as god.

As the story is about to conclude, the narrator adopts a less authoritative technique: what today we call “indirect free speech (IFS).” By using this technique, the readers are left wondering as to who is giving them the information—is it the narrator or the character? The boundaries have been deliberately blurred, and this adds credibility to the plot:

What would have happened if she had never lost those jewels. Who knows? Who knows? How strange life is, how fickle! How little is needed to ruin or to save! In the above passage we detect a tone of voice that isn’t really the narrator. Although we aren’t being told directly who is asking those questions and making the exclamation, we can infer by the tone that it is Mme. Loisel who is speculating about life.

Of course literary history tells us that Maupassant’s mentor Gustave Flaubert was one of the inventors of IFS, as it can easily be seen in his novel Madame Bovary. That Maupassant used this technique is a credit to his teacher.

Read "Selected Essays of Francis Bacon" in contemporary American English: available in KINDLE amazon.com $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:

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