Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Necklace: Summary

"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant starts with a description of a young woman, Mrs. Matilda Loisel. She is pretty and charming, but unfortunately she was born into a family of clerks. Because of her family's middle class stature, she has no hopes of becoming rich, famous or distinguished. Therefore, she agrees to marry a clerk in the Board of Education.

Matilda's modest life style makes her miserable. She suffers constantly because she feels that she should have been born into luxury. Everything about her surroundings depresses her, including her furniture and faded linens. Most women of her social stature would not even notice the things she sees as great flaws when surveying her apartment. She thinks about luxurious antechambers, with Oriental tapestries, bronze torches and servants who are made sleepy by decadent heating systems. Matilda longs for expensive bric-a-brac and ornate little rooms where ladies receive attention from well-known, wealthy men.

Her husband seems happy with the very things that depress her, including their meager meals. While she looks at the dirty tablecloth on the dining table, her husband exclaims with joy over simple pleasures and meager meals. She, meanwhile, thinks of all of the gourmet dinners in opulent rooms that she is missing.

"She had neither frocks nor jewels, nothing. And she loved only those things. She felt that she was made for them. She had such a desire to please, to be sought after, to be clever, and courted."

Her pain is so great that she cannot visit a rich friend because, upon returning home, she would cry for days over the despair of not having the things she desires.

One night, her husband comes home elated. He has an invitation in his hand for a party at the house of the Minster of Public Instruction. Instead of being happy, she is angry and spiteful, asking what she is supposed to do with it. Her husband says he thought it would make her happy. He went to great lengths to secure the invitation and promises she will see very important people at the event. She tells him she has nothing to wear. When he suggests that she wears the dress she dons when they attend the theater, she weeps. She says that she has no appropriate dress and that he should give the invitation to a colleague whose wife has a better wardrobe.

Matilda's husband asks what it would cost to buy a suitable dress. She decides that it would take about four hundred francs. He is dismayed because that is the exact amount he has saved to buy a gun. He had been hopping to join some hunting parties during the upcoming summer. Nevertheless, he agrees to give her the money.

It is now closer to the day of the ball. Matilda is sad, even though her dress is nearly ready. Her husband asks what is wrong, and she says she does not want to go the ball because she does not have jewelry to wear. He suggests wearing a few flowers, which look chic that season. She refuses, saying, "There is nothing more humiliating than to have a shabby air in the midst of rich women."

Her husband is pleased to come up with a solution to her problem. He suggests she goes to her friend, Mrs. Forestier, to ask her to lend Matilda some jewels. Matilda is thrilled by the suggestion. The next day, she goes to Mrs. Forestier's house and explains the situation. The woman gives her a jewelry case to look through and tells her to pick whatever she likes. At first, she sees some fine jewelry, but nothing seems just right. She asks Mrs. Forestier if she has anything else. Mrs. Forestier tells Matilda to look and see, because she is not sure what Matilda is looking for. Suddenly, Matilda discovers a superb diamond necklace. Her heart beats faster just looking at it. She is blissfully happy. She asks Mrs. Forestier if she can borrow the necklace. When the woman agrees, Matilda is overjoyed and embraces her with passion.

The night of the ball, "Madame" Loisel is a great success. She is the most beautiful, elegant, and joyful woman at the party. All of the men notice her and want to meet her. Even the Minister of Education pays attention to her. For that one night, she is happier than she has ever been.

She goes home at four o'clock in the morning. Her husband has been ready to go since midnight and has been half-asleep in a little salon with three other men whose wives were having a good time. They prepare to leave, but her modest coat embarrasses her. Her husband tells her to wait inside while he finds a cab, but she runs outside because she does not want the women wearing furs to see her everyday coat.

They do not find a cab and must walk in the cold for a while. They finally find a ride to their home. They walk wearily into their apartment. Her night is over, and he must be at the office in just a few hours. In a moment of horror, she realizes the necklace is no longer around her neck. Her husband retraces their steps. At seven o'clock, he returns empty-handed. The next morning, he goes to the police and cab offices and advertises in the newspapers, but the necklace does not turn up. He tells Matilda to write to Mrs. Forestier and tell her that she has broken the clasp on the necklace and must have it repaired. They hope it will buy them some time.

However, at the end of the week, the necklace is still missing. Mr. Loisel says that they must replace the jewelry. They go from jeweler to jeweler, looking for a necklace like the one Matilda lost. Finally, they find one that looks right. Even at a discount, it will cost them thirty-six thousand francs. Loisel only has eighteen thousand francs he inherited from his father. He borrows the rest from multiple sources, risking his whole future without knowing if he can ever repay the enormous debt. Matilda returns the necklace to Mrs. Forestier, who is angry that she did not get it back sooner.

Matilda now learns what it is like to live in real poverty. The couple gets rid of the maid and moves into smaller, attic rooms. Matilda must work endlessly doing even the most menial chores she once paid others to perform. Her husband works evenings doing copying and accounting. This miserable poverty lasts for ten years until they can repay the loans.

Now Mrs. Loisel seems old and weathered. She is no longer beautiful. Her hair, skin and nails are wrecked. However, sometimes when her husband is at work, she sits in the window and remembers that wonderful night when she was pretty and sought after. She thinks how her life would have been different if she had not lost the necklace.

One Sunday, while taking a walk, Matilda sees Mrs. Forestier. The woman is still young and pretty. Matilda says hello, but at first, her friend does not recognize the rough woman in front of her. When Matilda reveals her identity, Mrs. Forestier is astonished. Matilda tells Mrs. Forestier the truth about the necklace. She says it was very difficult, but the debt is repaid and she is now content with her life. She is pleased Mrs. Forestier never noticed the diamonds had been switched.

Mrs. Forestier is shocked and takes her hands. She tells Matilda that the diamond necklace she borrowed was fake and not worth more than five hundred francs.

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Johor Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Terengganu Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Pahang Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2] [Answers], Melaka Trial 2007 [Paper 1] [Paper 2], TIMES [Paper 1] [Paper 2] SPB [Paper 1] [Paper 2]


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