September 16, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Recently, I attended a pop-up conference hosted by Classical Pursuits. Moderator Melanie Blake walked us through a short story by Guy de Maupassant. I jumped on this opportunity since I had never read any of his short stories. And discussion is an excellent way to be introduced to new stories! Being in such a large group limited the number of comments from each participants, but it also broadened the range of answers. It was so enlightening to hear from a multitude of perspectives and I found listening incredibly rewarding.
Prior to the discussion, I honestly struggled with Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace” because it seemed (to me) to lack character development. However, Melanie began the discussion by asking, “What is the author trying to do? What are they trying to say?” While it seems an obvious question to ask, it caught me off guard because I realized that in wanting character development, I was not paying attention to the story. What seemed like a lack of character development was actually purposeful.
De Maupassant wrote at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. He participated in naturalism, which is a type of literature that attempted to understand human beings as impartially as possible. Naturalism avoided moralizing behavior. In the story “The Necklace,” de Maupassant presents a young bride with the simple dream of luxury. While she has plenty of money and food, she dreams of elaborate dinners, fine clothing, and extensive menus. Many labels can be applied to this type of dreaming, but Maupassant avoids all labels because of the way that they might skew the story towards a moral. He describes the main character as “simple” instead of greedy, or selfish, or over-reaching, or preoccupied, etc. De Maupassant asks, how can the reader judge the environment or the characters in this story? He uses narrative as a way to examine societal pressure and fate, however you understand that term.
“The Necklace” makes an excellent discussion piece for high school students and book groups. I offer the following questions as a way to enter the story:
1] What do we know about the main character, Madame Loisel?
2] What do you see as conflicts in this story?
3] What is fate? Can we separate fate from social pressures?
4] Why don’t Madame Loisel and her husband own up to the lost necklace? Would this story have a different ending if she admitted to her friend the fact that she lost the necklace that she borrowed?
5] Does Madame Loisel change throughout this story?
6] Is Madame Loisel the cause of her own poverty?
7] What is pride and what role does it play in this story?
Many thanks to Melanie Blake and Classical Pursuits for offering a pleasant experience and introducing me to this very intriguing story!
For more on Naturalism, Washington State University offers some basic information: https://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/natural.htm
And for more on Guy de Maupassant, visit Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Guy-de-Maupassant/Mature-life-and-works
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