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The Sisters Short Story Essay Assignments

Arielle Samuel
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

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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

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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

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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

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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).

Works Cited

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.

“Araby” James Joyce

The following entry presents criticism on Joyce's short story “Araby” (1914). See also James Joyce Short Story Criticism.

Considered one of Joyce's best known short stories, “Araby” is the third story in his short fiction collection, Dubliners, which was published in 1914. It is perceived as a prime example of Joyce's use of epiphany—a sudden revelation of truth about life inspired by a seemingly trivial incident—as the young narrator realizes his disillusionment with his concept of ideal love when he attempts to buy a token of affection for a young girl. Critical interest in the story has remained intense in recent decades as each story in Dubliners has been closely examined within the context of the volume and as an individual narrative. As the third story, “Araby” is often viewed as an important step between the first two stories—“The Sisters” and “An Encounter”—and the rest of the collection.

Plot and Major Characters

The narrator of “Araby” is a young boy living with his aunt and uncle in a dark, untidy home in Dublin that was once the residence of a priest, now deceased. The boy is infatuated with his friend's older sister, and often follows her to school, never having the courage to talk to her. Finally she speaks to him, asking him if he is going to attend a visiting bazaar, known as the “Araby.” When she indicates that she cannot attend, he offers to bring her something from the bazaar, hoping to impress her. On the night he is to attend, his uncle is late coming home from work. By the time the young boy borrows money from his uncle and makes his way to the bazaar, most of the people have left and many of the stalls are closed. As he looks for something to buy his friend's sister, he overhears a banal young salesgirl flirt with two young men. When the disinterested salesgirl asks him if he needs help, he declines, and he walks through the dark, empty halls, disillusioned with himself and the world around him.

Major Themes

Each story in Dubliners contains an epiphanic moment toward which the controlled yet seemingly plotless narrative moves. Among the best-known epiphanies is the one that occurs in “Araby,” in which a young boy recognizes the vanity and falsity of ideal, romantic love. It has also been interpreted as a story about a boy's growing alienation with his family, religion, and the world around him. Moreover, it is viewed as autobiographical, reflecting Joyce's own disillusionment with religion and love. As such, Dubliners is considered a collection of stories that parallel the process of initiation: the early stories focus on the tribulations of childhood, then move on to the challenges and epiphanies of adulthood. A few critics have detected the theme of Irish nationalism, as Joyce employs Irish legends to indicate the vast discrepancy between the narrator's idealized view of the girl and the harsh reality of the bazaar. Moreover, the theme of the quest is a prevalent one in “Araby,” as the young narrator embarks on a dangerous journey to win the hand of a young maiden.

Critical Reception

For many decades Dubliners was considered little more than a slight volume of naturalist fiction evoking the repressed social milieu of turn-of-the-century Dublin. When critics began to explore the individual stories in the collection, much attention was focused on the symbolism in “Araby,” particularly the religious imagery and the surrounding of the bazaar. In fact, some commentators have invested the story with many layers of meaning and religious symbolism; others urge a more superficial reading. Literary allusions, influences, and autobiographical aspects of the story have also been a rich area for study; in fact, commentators have found traces of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Dante's Commedia, and Homer's The Odyssey in Joyce's story. Much critical attention has focused on stylistic elements, especially the impact of the narrative voice in “Araby.” As scholars continue to mine Joyce's Dubliners for critical study, “Araby” remains one of the most highly regarded and popular stories in the volume.