The Best Reader + TIME

The Necklace — Guy de Maupassant

I came across this review over at The Bookworm shortly after having read and taught "The Necklace" for the first time. I hadn't thought of reviewing the short stories in our current unit, but it's a great idea and I'm a bit embarrassed that I hadn't thought of it before.

"The Necklace" was this unit's first short story and I felt like it went really well. If you haven't read it, add a bit of "class" to your life and spend five minutes reading it online for free. But in case you refuse to leave my presence — a synopsis:

"The Necklace" follows Madame Loisel and her husband through a decade of troubles. Monsieur Loisel is a clerk and thus, despite Mme. Loisel's dreams of being rich and fashionable, the pair live comfortably at a clerk's wage. One day M. Loisel brings home an invitation of a big party but Mme. Loisel isn't happy because she lacks an evening gown. So, giving up money for a rifle, M. Loisel gives his wife money for the dress. Weeks pass and Mme. Loisel is still unhappy because she doesn't have a piece of jewelry to wear with the nice dress. M. Loisel suggests she ask a more wealthy friend to loan her a nice piece of jewelry.

The night of the party comes and Mme. Loisel dances with everyone including the prestigious Minister of Education (if you are teaching this short story, make sure to tell your students that Minister doesn't imply priest — we really struggled with this so I had to bring up The Minister of Magic in order for it to make sense) while her husband, who must work the next morning, sleeps in an arm chair. By four in the morning the party subsides and couple return home only to find out that the priceless diamond necklace that Mme. borrowed is missing! M. Loisel offers to retrace their steps in search for the necklace while Mme. Loisel sits at home and worries — again, he must go to work at 10am.

A week passes and the couple take steps to replace the expensive necklace. M. Loisel borrows 36,000 francs from loan sharks and friends — signing his name without certainty that he can ever pay the money back. Mme. Loisel must do their own dishes and laundry by releasing the servant girl from their home. They also move into a smaller home and life basically sucks for ten years.

Ten years pass and the money has all been paid back and Mme. is so proud of herself that she finally tells her friend that she had lost the original necklace and had to replace it and that she and her husband have spent the last ten years slaving to pay off the loans. The friend is aghast to tell Mme. that the original necklace was made of paste and was only worth 500 francs.

I love a bit of dramatic irony in the morning!

This was a great story to begin our unit with. The students were a bit weary with character names, but once we got past that I think they thoroughly enjoyed discussing this short story (maybe even more than reading it!). The vocabulary words we focused on with this story were facade, prospects, privation, and misogynist. The students are still struggling with facade, so many of them want to say "facading" and "She is facade." But I think the term misogynist was definitely the highlight of this unit.

We spent an entire day discussing whether Guy de Maupassant was a misogynist or not. He did, after all, set Madame Loisel up with all these troubles. Her portrayal was that of a selfish, egotistical, unhappy girl who was dissatisfied with absolutely every attempt to make her happy by her husband. The other side, of course, is that is her portrayal an unfair one or simply honest? With this side we talked about Prom and the fact that with prom most students (not all) buy a new expensive dress every year and with the dress, jewelery, hair, nails, shoes, limos and all of the other "necessities" ensue. So is the portrayal of Madame misogynistically unfair or an honest portrayal of women?

"The Necklace" and the discussion that followed added a depth to my class that I was unprepared for and I highly suggest reading it. You'd assume it is out of date, but I guess the question is: has society really changed as much as we think it has?

To the FTC, with love: Class Read

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The Necklace — Guy de Maupassant + TIME