ENG 104, Prof. C. Agatucci
Midterm Literary Analysis Paper
26 October 2003
Plot and Character in Maupassant’s “The Necklace”
“Life…is composed of the most unpredictable, disparate, and contradictory elements,” according to Guy de Maupassant. “It is brutal, inconsequential, and disconnected, full of inexplicable, illogical catastrophes” (“The Writer’s Goal" 897). Utterly to the point with his words, Guy de Maupassant’s fame as a writer stemmed from his “direct and simple way” of telling readers what he observed (Chopin 861). His short story, “The Necklace,” is no exception. “The Necklace” is evidence of the literary realism that dominated literature during the 19th century. Cora Agatucci, a professor of Humanities, states that the subjects of literature during this time period revolved around “everyday events, lives, [and the] relationships of middle/lower class people” (Agatucci 2003). In “The Necklace,” Maupassant describes an unhappy woman, born to a poor family and married to a poor husband, who suffers “ceaselessly” from her lower-class lifestyle, “[…] feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries” (Maupassant 524). Through the unfolding of the plot and the exquisite characterization of Mathilde and her husband, Maupassant offers readers a dramatic account of what could happen when a person is not satisfied with her place in life.
Ann Charters defines plot as “the sequence of events in a story and their relation to one another as they develop and usually resolve a conflict” (Charters1003). According to Charters, there are five major parts of a plot. The exposition explains the characters, the time period, and the present situation; the rising action introduces a major complication, with smaller conflicts occurring along the way; the climax, or the dramatic
turning point in the action of the story; the falling action, which helps wrap up the major complication; and finally, the conclusion of the story (Charters 1004-1005).
Plot plays a vital role in “The Necklace,” particularly the exposition. Approximately one page is devoted entirely to Mathilde’s description, a description of both her physical appearance as well as her mentality, giving the readers a crystal clear picture of the main character and the reasons behind her depression. Mathilde “dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station,” undoubtedly a station of wealth and prosperity in her mind. Suffering “from the poverty of her dwelling,” Mathilde often dreamt of “silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra” when her own drab furniture and dreary walls angered her to look at them (Maupassant 524). The exposition paints Mathilde as a woman who feels she’s been dealt a poor hand in life, a woman desiring riches far beyond her grasp, which foreshadows the events to come later in the plot.
“The action of the plot is performed by the characters in the story, the people who make something happen or produce an effect” (Charters 1006). Without the characters, the plot would be meaningless because the characters bring the plot to life. Charters also explains that characters can be one of two types: dynamic or static. A static character does not change throughout the story; he or she just stays the same, while a dynamic character is often described as “round” and often changes throughout the course of the story (Charters 1007). The way an author chooses to develop a character affects the entire story, particularly the climax. If a character developed as a calm and level headed
person, he or she will react wisely to conflicts or emotional turning points; however, if a character is developed as greedy and self absorbed, the climax of the story will cause the character to make irrational choices in the face of conflict, as Mathilde, the dynamic main character of “The Necklace” illustrates.
Mathilde’s character is consistently unhappy with her own life and her own possessions, always longing for more than what she has. When her husband brings home the invitation to the ball, hoping his wife will be thrilled at the chance to attend such an exclusive gathering, she instead “threw the invitation on the table with disdain,” because she had nothing to wear. At her husband’s suggestion of wearing her theater dress, she simply cries with grief. When the dress dilemma is resolved, Mathilde is “sad, uneasy, [and] anxious” (Maupassant 525). Her lack of fine jewelry and gems makes her feel that she “should almost rather not go at all” (Maupassant 526). Clearly, Mathilde’s character is one with an insatiable greed for what she does not have.
Later in the story, after the precious necklace has been lost, Mathilde’s character appears to change, taking on the role of a poor woman with “heroism.” As she is forced to scrub dishes, wash laundry, and bargain with their “miserable” money, the reader would assume Mathilde has been humbled by her greed and the price she paid for insisting on wearing the diamond necklace. The reader questions the extent of Mathilde’s transformation when Mathilde sits at her window and ponders the evening of the ball, remembering her beauty and the attention she received.
Contrary to Mathilde is her husband, M. Loisel, a character who remains static throughout the course of “The Necklace.” M. Loisel seems happy with the small things
in life, desiring only please his wife. When he sits down to a supper of soup, he exclaims, “Ah, the good pot-au-feu! I don’t know anything better than that” (Maupassant 524). Meanwhile, Mathilde is picturing food she feels she is worthy of, like “the pink flesh of a trout or the wings of a quail” (Maupassant 524). M. Loisel does look his patience once with his wife, saying to her, “How stupid you are!” (Maupassant 526) when she is upset about her lack of jewelry. Other than that small episode, M. Loisel remains fairly consistent throughout the length of the story.
The construction of the plot, such as the dramatic climax when Mathilde realizes she has lost the necklace, combined with the shaping of the two main characters, Mathilde and her husband, force the reader to realize the unspoken theme of the story. Mathilde’s envy of other people’s possessions leads to the eventual demise of her life, while her husband’s contentment with what he has allows him to remain essentially unchanged, illustrates the theme running throughout the story, which is the importance of being satisfied with who you are and what you have, as well as the importance of not wanting or envying what other’s have. This theme becomes obvious when, in the exposition, Mathilde’s perspective on her life makes her seem poor and underprivileged; yet, when the Loisels are forced to make drastic changes in their way of life, such as firing their maid and moving to more economical lodging, the reader realizes the poverty Mathilde suffers from is not poverty at all compared to the life they must lead after they are forced to replace the diamond necklace.
Without a strong plot that envelops the reader in the ongoing action, a story is not as powerful or effective; without good characterization of the main characters, there is no
mechanism for the plot to unfold. If there is not an effective plot with identifiable characters, the theme of any story is lost to the reader, so clearly the three go hand in hand with each other. Maupassant’s ability to communicate facts and descriptions, leaving the emotional interpretation for the reader, is what he’s known for. In fact, this ability makes the reader feel as though Maupassant is telling the story for their ears and hearts only. Kate Chopin eloquently wrote, “I like to cherish the delusion that he has spoken to no one else so directly, so intimately as he does to me” (Chopin 862).
Agatucci, Cora (Professor of English, Humanities Dept., Central Oregon Community
College). “Emergence of the Short Story: Literary Romanticism and Realism-Poe
and Maupassant.” Handout & In-Class Presentation, English 104: Introduction to
Literature-Fiction, Central Oregon Community College [Bend, OR], Fall 2003.
Charters, Ann. “The Elements of Fiction.” [header note.] The Story and Its Writer: An
Introduction to Short Fiction. Compact 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 1003-1015.
Charters, Ann. “Guy de Maupassant” [header note.] The Story and Its Writer: An
Introduction to Short Fiction. Compact 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 523.
Chopin, Kate. “How I Stumbled upon Maupassant.” [First published 1969.] Rpt. The
Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters.
Compact 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 861-862.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Necklace.” [First published 1884.] Rpt. The Story and Its
Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 6th ed.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 524-530.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Writer’s Goal.” [First published 1888.] Rpt. The Story and Its
Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 6th ed.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 896-898.
The Most Morally Complex Hero
On one level, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is just a tale of a few mischievous kids and their charismatic leader, Tom Sawyer, getting into trouble. On another level, it is the story of all the real damage that can result from seemingly innocent adventures. Tom Sawyer is at the center of this narrative. He cons Ben Rogers into washing the fence for him. He lets Potter go on trial for a murder that Tom knows Potter did not commit. Tom lies to his aunt many times. Worst of all, Tom allows the entire town to believe that he and his friends have drowned.
Yet he does eventually come clean to save Potter. He also has deep regrets about the pain he ends up causing. It is hard to pin Tom Sawyer down morally because he acts in ways that hurt others, but when he realizes the consequences of his actions he is often regretful.
It is a fair argument to say Tom Sawyer should be forgiven all his mistakes. After all, he is just a child. He seems to understand that the things he has done hurt people, and he regrets them. Tom even goes to lengths to make the people he has hurt feel better. However, it would be difficult to argue that Tom would not make many of the same choices all over again. After Tom and Becky nearly died in a cave, Tom still brings Huck back to that same cave to find gold. While he presumably knew where he was going that time, the danger still remained. Tom caused immense grief and sadness for his Aunt Polly when he allowed her to believe his friends and him were dead. He even went so far as to come back to his house to spy on Aunt Polly grieving for him without ever revealing himself because it would have, “ruined the surprise.” There is sincere regret for each of these actions, yet they still occur many times.
The question remains for Tom Sawyer. Maybe Tom would not be so morally complex if he was an adult. He would be cast as manipulative, selfish, and callous. His youth muddies up the discussion. Yet, there has to be a point at which the moral immunity of his youth wears off. What Tom Sawyer’s character makes so difficult is where that point is.
Essays on literature are one of the most commonly assigned papers among college and university students. We posted this literary analysis essay example analysing one of the most morally complex heroes. Our writer selected Tom Sawyer to speak about in his/her essay. In case you need another character to analyze for your literature class, you are welcome to ask our experts to help you. Just tell your topic and your paper will be delivered as soon as you need it.
Enjoy reading one more literary analytical essay example.
The history about adventures of Huckleberry Finn is famous and well-known in the world. It must be clear that, as any high-quality story, it must have some moral. It is important that the moral of the story still stays interesting for the researchers. One can notice that they are interested not only in the main moral of the whole story but more about the moral of the main character. The case of Huckleberry Finn seems to be quite interesting, taking into account the factors that have an impact on him. Reading the story, one can notice that Huckleberry is surrounded by the common morality of his time and environment. However, when it is time to act in some way, Huckleberry behave in the way that seems to be right for him and the modern readers, not for the sources of common moral that could affect him. In this way, considering the sources of Huckleberry’s morality, one can notice not only different external sources but also his own feelings about right and wrong.
Considering the moral values and the source of morality for Huckleberry Finn one can pay attention to the article written by Schinkel, who cited Copeland (2002), writing that “whereas Miss Watson tries to get Huck to behave by telling him ‘all about the bad place,’ the widow, in a more Stoic frame of mind, teaches Huck to pray for ‘spiritual gifts,’ which means, as Huck says, ‘I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself’ [. . .]” (516). Considering the following behavior of Huckleberry one can say that widow’s morale had more impact on him. One can also suggest that Huckleberry’s own representations of morals, even they were not strictly formulated, was closer to widow’s moral. At least he definitely agreed with the idea of helping other people, particularly his friends and people who were kind to him. Independence is an important feature of Huckleberry Finn. However, he, like any other person, can not avoid an impact of environmental factors. Thus, he can accept or not the morals which Miss Watson and the widow tried to instill him. However, except these two women, there is one more source of morality that had an impact on Huckleberry Finn.
One of the main points related with moral of Huckleberry Finn is his interaction with his friend, fugitive black slave Jim. One can notice that in this relationships moral of Huckleberry Finn became the clearest. On the one hand, “in his earliest years, Huck wasn’t taught any principles, and the only ones he has encountered since then are those of rural Missouri, in which slave-owning is just one kind of ownership and is not subject to critical pressure” (Bennett). In this way, whether he accepts it or not, an environment has an impact on Huckleberry. On the other hand, Huck allows Jim to escape and helps him if their following travel. This fact clearly shows that except the common rural Missouri moral Huckleberry have another one, that makes him act the way he did it, helping Jim.
Considering the moral issue of Huckleberry Finn, Schinkel wrote that “Huck somehow has to deal with two alternately dominant manifestations of the concerned awareness we call conscience” (515). The researcher pays attention to the fact that “one of them is articulate, taking its standard from conventional morality; the other is mute and has no articulable standard to go by – Huck cannot articulate any standard on this side, because the whole of his moral vocabulary is in service of the first” (Schinkel 515). In this way, the researcher emphasizes and shows the issue of two morals that Huckleberry has. On the one hand, he has the moral that society and certain people tried to instill him. On the other hand, Huckleberry has his own moral, own feeling about right and wrong behavior and actions. What is more important, even the second type of moral is not articulable, this moral, not the first one, makes Huckleberry act in the way he acts and helps Jim. In this way, considering sources of Huckleberry’s morality, one can consider not only the different external sources such as society in general or particular people who have the impact on Huckleberry but also his own feelings about right and wrong.
In this way, there are different sources of Huckleberry’s morality. There are two women, Miss Watson and the widow, who tried to instill him their morality. One more source is the common morality of his time, which can impact on Huckleberry from the different people and different sources, but he in any way could not avoid it. However, actions of Huckleberry are not caused by any of that morals. Thus, the sources of Huckleberry’s morality can be separated in external and inner. One can notice the inner feelings and understanding of right and wrong is the most important for Huckleberry and it causes his behavior, not the common morality of his time or people who tried to instill their morality to him.
Bennett, Jonathan. The Conscience Of Huckleberry Finn. 1974, http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/jfb/huckfinn.pdf.
Schinkel, Anders. “Huck Finn, Moral Language And Moral Education.” Journal Of Philosophy Of Education, vol 45, no. 3, 2011, pp. 511-525.