Study Guide

The Necklace Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

The Necklace
Mathilde Loisel

The day of the party arrived. Mme. Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest of them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and mad with joy. All the men were looking at her, inquiring her name, asking to be introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wanted to dance with her. The Minister took notice of her. (53)

Mathilde's a huge hit. She gets all the men to pay attention her, including the most important one of all (the minister). This is the best moment of her life.

She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education. (1)

Mathilde's future prospects are not in her own hands. She's a woman, which means the quality of her life will basically depend upon her family and her husband. And in both respects, she's out of luck, as far as she's concerned. With so much powerlessness, it's no wonder she's frustrated and dissatisfied.

"No; there's nothing more humiliating than to look poor among a lot of rich women." (37)

Wealth and womanhood are intimately bound up in Mathilde's mind. She wants to look wealthy so she can compete with the rich women.

She had no dresses, no jewelry, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only. She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after. (5)

Mathilde wants to be desired by men. To some extent, even her desire for wealth is just derivative of that. Her highest wish is to be approved of and wanted by someone else.

But by a violent effort she had conquered her trouble, and she replied in a calm voice as she wiped her damp cheeks... (20)

Mathilde comes across as overly sensitive and emotional. She has to work very hard to control her emotions. There's a feminine stereotype for you on which Maupassant is playing.

Then, one Sunday, as she was taking a turn in the Champs Elysées, as a recreation after the labors of the week, she perceived suddenly a woman walking with a child. It was Mme. Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still seductive. (107)

Unlike Mathilde, who's lost her looks and "womanly charms" to poverty, Mme. Forestier still looks good. All of that even after becoming a mother (another sign of womanhood). This makes us wonder why Mathilde doesn't have a child?

She danced with delight, with passion, intoxicated with pleasure, thinking of nothing, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness made up of all these tributes, of all the admirations, of all these awakened desires, of this victory so complete and so sweet to a woman's heart. (54)

The narrator seems to be suggesting here that Mathilde's desires – to look glamorous and beautiful and be desired by men – are more generally "woman's" desires. That's what makes women happy and pleases their "womanly hearts." Again, it seems to be entirely stereotyped.

She was simple since she could not be adorned; but she was unhappy as though kept out of her own class; for women have no caste and no descent, their beauty, their grace, and their charm serving them instead of birth and fortune. Their native keenness, their instinctive elegance, their flexibility of mind, are their only hierarchy; and these make the daughters of the people the equals of the most lofty dames. (2)

The narrator is suggesting that looks and charm make the woman, not wealth or good birth. According to this train of thought, a pretty, charming poor woman can be the equal of "the most lofty dame." This is certainly the way Mathilde feels about herself – she has the looks and the charm to be better at being a "woman" than most rich women. It's telling that the two "virtues" of a woman are the qualities that make them attractive to men. We don't hear anything about intelligence, or kindness, or creativity…

She went away about four in the morning. Since midnight – her husband had been dozing in a little anteroom with three other men whose wives were having a good time. (55)

M. Loisel could care less about the party – he's just happy to have an opportunity to sleep. And he's not the only man in that situation, either. What does that mean? Maybe being a "man" he has different desires than his wife's womanly ones. Or maybe he's not interested in scouting out other men's wives because he's already got an attractive and charming wife of his own. Mathilde, on the other hand, doesn't seem to feel the same way about her husband.

Mme. Loisel seemed aged now. She had become the robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household. Badly combed, with her skirts awry and her hands red, her voice was loud, and she washed the floor with splashing water. (104)

Once more, we see a connection between wealth and womanhood. According to Maupassant, Mathilde's poverty makes her less feminine. She's less attractive, and less graceful. Instead, she's "hard and rough," and older looking. And apparently has a perpetual bad hair day.

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