This paper explores how Guy De Maupassant’s “The Diamond Necklace” carries metropolitan artificiality and predicament through the different characters. The story has the setting of a metropolitan city. The characters in the story are highly affected by artificial metropolitan life and are thrown to the inescapable predicament. The protagonist in the story, Matilda Loisel, internalizes the artificial metropolitan life, does not know her real economic reality, tries to behave like the other women around her locality, borrows a necklace from her friend, Mrs. Forestier; loses it and leads her family along with herself to a great misery. However, at the end of the story, the protagonist is told by Forestier that the necklace borrowed from her was not a real diamond necklace.
In the very beginning of the story, the narrator describes the external beauty of Matilda Loisel. The metropolitan narrator does not much care about her spiritual value and mental ability rather he just laments on her birth in a family of a clerk but does not describe any other qualities of her family except the economic status. The narrator says that she was compelled to marry with a clerk because of her family’s economic status. According to Georg Simmel, in modern metropolitan life, “Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it asks for the exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to the question: How much?” I the same way, the boy whom Matilda married with is not judged by his social status and moral qualities, but he has been counted as a petty clerk based on his job and economic status. The artificial metropolitan beginning of the story is as follow:
She was one of those pretty, charming young ladies, born, as it through an error of destiny, into a family of clerks. She had no dowry, no hopes, no means of becoming known, loved and married by man either rich or distinguished; and she allowed herself to marry a petty clerk in the office of the Board of Education. (297)
In the metropolitan society of Matilda, Matilda and her husband’s inner abilities are ignored and comments about their marriage are made based on the physical beauty that labels them as petty beings.
After the short description of the economic status of Matilda’s father and husband, the narrator takes us to the suffering of Matilda. Nevertheless, the suffering is not any physical suffering; it is all her mental suffering caused by her metropolitan desires and expectations. She seems so much care about her apartment, the walls, the chairs, and the faded stuff. This all shows that her suffering is her high expectation, an influence of metropolitan life and comparatively poor economic status to meet all the metropolitan desires and expectations. Other women around her do not know the poor condition of her apartment, but she notices the very small lacks and suffers a lot. About the standard of her apartment and the mental suffering, the narrator says, “She suffered incessantly, feeling born for all delicacies and luxuries. She suffered from the poverty of her apartment, the shabby walls, the worn chairs, and the faded stuff. All these things, which another woman of her station would not have noticed, tortured and angered her.” (297)
Since she remains dissatisfied with her own economic status, Matilda cannot let die her desires rather starts borrowing necessary things for her artificial life. In the story, she is visiting her friend, Mrs. Forestier’s house for borrowing some ornaments to attend a party, but the ornaments available there hardly satisfy her metropolitan desire. However, at last, her desire for attractive ornament is fulfilled by a diamond necklace found in Mrs. Forestier’s black satin box. This is the example of the growing artificial desires of metropolitan people like Matilda. The incident of borrowing of the diamond necklace by the protagonist is narrated as follow:
“Why, yes. Look for yourself. I do not know what will please you.”
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb necklace of diamonds, and her heart beat fast with an immoderate desire. Her hands trembled as she took them up. She took them around her throat against her dress, and she remained in ecstasy before them. Then she asked, in a hesitating voice, full of anxiety:
“Could you lend me this? Only this?”
“Why, yes, certainly.” (300)
Metropolitan woman Matilda does not get attracted to the simple ornaments, chooses a superb one and asks her friend to lend her.
Although Matilda buys new clothes and borrows a diamond necklace from Mrs. Forestier, the metropolitan air around her does not let her be free from mental burden. Everything is going well with the new clothes and the borrowed diamond necklace, but the wrap thrown by her husband disturbs her ongoing celebration. The wrap is a modest wrap of everyday use. Now the artificiality of Matilda does not allow her to stay the p[arty any longer and let it be noticed by other attendants. So, the couple hastily moves from the party. The best example here is that the metropolitan couple is chased away by their own shadow of artificiality. The lines about the hurried movement of the couple are as follow:
He threw around her shoulder the wraps they had carried for the coming home, the modest garment of everyday wear, whose poverty clashed with the elegance of the ball costume. She felt this and wished to hurry away in order not to be noticed by the other women who were wrapping themselves in rich furs. (300)
A couple of Matilda is very much conscious to maintain the metropolitan standard. They are ready to sacrifice anything except their standard of metropolitan culture, so they leave the ball without being noticed by other attendants.
When the couple reaches home after the metropolitan celebration and the unfit wrap with them, Matilda finds no necklace around her neck. Now the predicament of the couple caused by the artificial metropolitan life begins after the loss of the borrowed diamond necklace. According to the narrator of the story, Matilda notices the loss of the necklace as, “she removed the wraps from her shoulders before the glass, for a final view of herself in her glory. Suddenly she uttered a cry. Her necklace was not around her neck (301).
Now the couple has no way other than to buy a similar necklace whatever the price is. They search a lot to find a diamond necklace with the same size and shape as the lost one. After a long trial, they ultimately find a similar diamond with its price forty thousand francs. But do not have that amount to purchase it, so, they ask the shopkeeper not to sell it for three days and also make an arrangement to return it if the lost on is found by February. About this phase of predicament due to the metropolitan life, the narrator says:
In a shop of Palais-Royal, they found a chaplet of diamonds that seemed to them exactly the one they had lost. It was valued at forty thousand francs. They could get it for thirty-six thousand. They begged jeweler not to sell it for three days. And they made an arrangement by which they might return it for thirty-four thousand francs if they found the other one before February. (302)
Although they find the diamond and arrange with the jeweler, they have to toil hard to collect the required amount except eighteen thousand francs, which had been left by his father. He asks the rest of the amount to person to person as much amount as possible. According to the narrator, Mr. Loisel does not care about his prestige. About the hardships in collecting amount to buy the necklace are as follows:
Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs which his father had left him. He borrowed the rest.
He borrowed it, asking for a thousand francs of one, five hundreds of another, five lois of this one, and three lois of that one. He gave notes, made ruinous promises, took money of usurers and the whole race of lenders. (302)
Since they are committed to replacing the lost necklace, they do not miss any possibility while collecting money for buying the necklace and even do not hesitate spending money left by Mr. Loisel’s father.
After the loss of the borrowed necklace, the couple of Loisel modifies the life and lives in a so miserable way. The momentary celebration pushes them to an unimagined hardship. The narrator mentions, “Mrs. Loisel now knew the horrible life of necessity. She did her part, however, completely heroically. It was necessary to pay this frightful dept. She would pay for it. They sent away the maid; they changed their lodgings; they rented some rooms under mansard roof” (302). Now, Matilda forgets the metropolitan life and becomes a very laborious woman. She does not hesitate to perform any odious job, which she had never done before. The narrator says, “She learned the heavy cares of the household, the odious work of kitchen. She washed the dishes, using her rosy nails upon the greasy pots and bottoms of the stewpans”(302).
However, at the end of the story, the supposed to be diamond necklace borrowed from Mrs. Forestier is revealed as the false diamond and of the very cheap price. The entire predicament they faced due to their metropolitan dream and foolishness eventually turned out to be in vain. About the revelation of the quality of the diamond necklace is narrated in the following way:
“You say that you brought a diamond necklace to replace mine?”
“Yes. You did not perceive it then? They were just alike.”
And she smiled with a proud and simple joy. Mrs. Forestier was touched and took both her hands as she replied:
“Oh! my poor Matilda! Mine were false. They were not worth over five
hundred francs!”. (303)
Though Matilda’s couple becomes old and weak to pay by the debt of replacing the lost necklace, ultimately Mrs. Forestier reveals that the lost necklace was not an original diamond necklace.
To sum up, the society of the story is fully influenced by the artificial metropolitan culture. In the story, the characters are judged by their external beauty and money economy. The protagonist of the story, Mrs. Loisel, represents a poor family; but she does not understand her status and tries to follow the women of higher economic status. She borrows a diamond necklace from her friend, Mrs. Forestier, to attend a ball; loses it, pursues a lot to pay the debt caused by the loss of the necklace and spends a most her as well as her husband’s energetic age in it.
Maupassant, Guy De.. “The Diamond Necklace”. Elements of Literature. Nancy R. Comley, et al.4th ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.297-303.
Simmel, George. “The Metropolis and Mental Life”. The Sociology of Georg Simmel.tr. and ed. Kurt H. Wolff. New York: Free Press of Glecoe, 1964. 409-17.
written by Bharat karki