In Guy De Maupassant’s The Necklace, we learn about Parisian society from the perspective of the life and hardship of Madame Loisel. The struggle this woman goes through is the result of a society based upon social class, and the lifestyle that results from economic oppression. Our daily lives are made up of economic disparities and people are judged by their financial status. These ideologies are the main focus and substance of Karl Marx’s philosophy of human society. Marxist ideas are easily recognized in The Necklace especially because of the socioeconomic class system in Paris in which this story takes place. Although Mathilde and her husband make enough to get by, their current lifestyle is not fulfilling enough for her liking. Madame Loisel covets a bourgeois lifestyle because she believes it is the only way to achieve happiness and self-esteem.
From the beginning of the story it is easy to tell that Mathilde is troubled. “She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains. All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and insulted her.” (Maupassant 65) Mathilde believes that she deserves better than her current situation. She stays up crying and hoping for a better life, even though there is no hope for change. Her husband, who works in the ministry of education, cannot afford the affluence that his wife desires and is quite unaware of her longing for a higher standard of living. In a patriarchal society such as in Paris at this time, women had no role in providing for themselves or for a family. Instead, they had to rely on the men to provide income and support the family. Because of this, it would be impossible for Mathilde to move upward in society unless she had married a wealthier husband.
Madame Loisel’s grievances are a perfect example of classism. “Classism is an ideology that equates one’s value as a human being with the social class to which one belongs; the higher one’s social class, the better one is assumed to be because quality is ‘in the blood,’ that is, inborn.” (Tyson 59) Mathilde cannot accept that she might be labeled as a lower class woman, because she believes that women have no class at all. “Her tastes were simple because she had never been able to afford any other, but she was as unhappy as though she had married beneath her; for women have no caste or class, their beauty, grace, and charm serving them for birth or family.” Her obvious status in the proletariat class is countered by her longing for an extravagant lifestyle. Mathilde has no means to better her life and places the blame on her husband.
Monsieur Loisel is a clerk in the Ministry of Education. His earnings will never be enough to satisfy the lifestyle that his wife covets. When Monsieur Loisel returns home from work with an invitation to an elegant ball, Mathilde is reluctant to appreciate the gesture, and instead has a devastating reaction. “Why, darling, I thought you’d be pleased. You never go out, and this is a great occasion. I had tremendous trouble to get it. Every one wants one; it’s very select, and very few go to the clerks. You’ll see all the really big people there.” (Maupassant 66) Mathilde replies, “And what do you suppose I am to wear to such an affair?” (Maupassant 66) Madame Loisel’s husband can try to please her in many ways, but she will never achieve personal satisfaction or self-pride unless she is comforted by material possessions. It is clear that Monsieur Loisel loves his wife dearly, for he will go out of his way to try and please her. The love between the two of them is not mutual because nothing short of a lavish lifestyle seems to excite Mathilde. Even the invitation to the event at the Ministry leaves her more troubled.
Going back to the issue of classism, Monsieur Loisel’s occupation at the Ministry of Education may not be a respectable career in the eyes of Mathilde. However she is blinded by her socioeconomic status to see the real value that her husband is to society as a whole. What could be more valuable and rewarding than the field of education and all the doors it can open? Instead, Madame Loisel concentrates on what she lacks, when she should be thankful that she has a home to live in and a husband that will provide for her no matter the circumstances. Marx’s ideology states that human nature is dependent on the basis of real world conditions that include economic status. The people will act in their own demeanor according to the realities of their own personal economic and social experiences. Mathilde believes she deserves better than her husband and she should be living the haute lifestyle just like other women she envies. Once again she fails to acknowledge her situation and instead of adjusting to it, she longs for more.
When Monsieur Loisel offers to purchase a suitable dress for Mathilde to wear to the affair at the Ministry, she is only momentarily content. Mathilde knows that the cost of her dress will directly affect their finances but her husband agrees to the price of four hundred francs. Once the dress is ready, Madame resorts to her desire for more, and can’t imagine attending an event without proper jewelry. “I’m utterly miserable at not having any jewels, not a single stone, to wear. I shall look at absolutely no one. I would almost rather not go to the party.” (Maupassant 67) Her desire to wear jewelry is fueled by her belief that she needs to look as wealthy as the other women at the party in order to fit in or be accepted by the higher, bourgeois class that will be in attendance. When her husband recommends wearing flowers to the event she is disgusted. “No…there is nothing so humiliating as looking poor in the middle of a lot of rich women.” (Maupassant 67) Marxist viewpoints explain how capitalist and materialistic societies have a significant effect on human psychology.
Mathilde believes that the only way to get noticed by high society is to appear wealthy, or in other words a ‘higher value’ to society. “From a classist perspective, people at the top of the social scale are naturally superior to those below them: those at the top are more intelligent, more responsible, more trustworthy, more ethical and so on. People at the bottom of the social scale, it follows, are naturally shiftless, lazy, and irresponsible.” (Tyson 59) This is only a Marxist viewpoint on class ideology, however it reinforces the fact that Mathilde will feel subordinate to high society unless she appears to fit in. She may in fact be more intelligent and less lazy than the crowd at the ball, however she will appear inferior if she shows up underdressed for the occasion.
Finally, Madame Loisel is concerned with her appearance in the presence of the Ministry for one more reason. She needs to appear with jewelry because it will boast her financial status, and relieve all concern that there might be a woman who doesn’t “deserve” to be present at the ball. The desire to display her jewels at such an event is a result of society’s relationship to the commodity. “For Marxism, a commodity’s value lies not in what it can do, but in the money or other commodities for which it can be traded and in the social status it confers on its owner.” (Tyson 62) In order to conform to the image of the bourgeois class, she must use material possessions to prove her socioeconomic standing. To Mathilde, money is power and elegance. Although she is far from her ideal lifestyle, she attempts to experience it for one night through the clothes and jewelry she wears. It wouldn’t matter to her if she were the most beautiful woman present at the affair. Without attaching a commodity value to her attire, she believes to be inferior in every way in the eyes of society.
To Madame Loisel, happiness can be achieved through materialistic means, and it is this theme, which tears at her self-esteem throughout Guy De Maupassant’s The Necklace. If she would look past such things she may realize how society shapes our ideas and beliefs on social class and how it relates to our own human nature. Her constant sorrow and sadness will continue in a cycle because she refuses to believe that happiness can be achieved through love, knowledge, or perseverance. Instead, the necklace that she believed would solve all her problems and dry her tears ended up ruining her life and lowering her socioeconomic status more. Today Karl Marx’s ideas continue to explain our actions, and the hard truth that capitalist and materialistic societies change the way we think about ourselves is evident in the character of Mathilde.
Tyson, Lois. “Marxist Criticism.” Critical Theory Today: Second Edition. 2006. 53-81.
De Maupassant, Guy. “The Necklace.” E Fictions. 2006. 65-71.