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A Marxist Reading of Maupassant’s Story 'The Diamond Necklace'


Literary theories are lenses to look at a literary text through. Here I will try to read Guy De Maupassant’s “The Diamond Necklace” from Marxist perspective. A Marxist reading of the story provides us to look into this short story from a Marxist point of view that means how Karl Marx and Frederic Engels’s Marxist theory implies on this text. Economic condition, according to Marxist theory, determines one’s class and also affects the life of that class in a society. The ultimate result of this class distinction is class conflict where one class is treated as inferior or ‘other’ and dominated by the views or perspectives of ‘Other’ that means the superior class. Exactly same thing happens in the short story “The Diamond Necklace”.  The story illustrates social and economic inequality in general and particularly in a proletariat woman’s life, Mathilde, and how much it costs in her livings when she wishes to be perfect on bourgeoisies’ eyes.  Apart from this, the story also portrays the way that a family’s own budget in an economy can make or break their way of life. The story seems to support the Marxist claim that people are mere creations of social or economic circumstance.

Marxism:

Prior to going our textual analysis, we must have a detailed idea about Marxism as well as Marxist literary criticism. Marxism is the movement founded by Karl Marx and Frederic Engels in the mid nineteenth century. It is based upon the idea that a society is composed of the proletariat, or working class, and the bourgeoisie, or upper class. It proposes that the bourgeoisie is very separated from the working class and bends the rules in order keep them at the bottom of the social ladder. The aim of Maxism is to bring about a classless society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. So with this knowledge   it is a bit easier to see how to apply these ideals to literature.
 
When viewing a literary work from the point of view of the Marxist strategy, one considers the literature from all the aspects of economics. There are also some other things that should be considered when we are going to analyze any literary text---
 
First of all, whether the text reflects or resists any dominant ideology, or it may both. Then we should identify the class of characters that they belong to. Here one thing should be remembered that in the most important element to discover the effect that economic standing has on the characters. After that we can look into the evidence of class struggle or class conflict and the way it affects in the livings of the characters. For example- the ultimate result of class struggle is alienation and fragmentation. So we should observe whether any character suffers from alienation or fragmentation.

Marxist Reading of
“The Diamond Necklace”:
 
Now with the above ideas let us analyze our text, “The Diamond Necklace”. After a close reading of the story from Marxist perspective, we see the underlying theme of the story is a conflict between proletariat and bourgeoisie. On the surface level, the story seems to be just a tale of a woman who loses her necklace which she borrows from her friend and ultimately suffers a lot for it. But a close reading of the story with Marx and Engel’s economic theories we find the story deals with the structure of capitalist society. The story starts out by describing a woman namely Mathilde who should have been raised in a family that was very rich. However, she was born into a family of clerks that means she belongs to the proletariat class. At the very beginning of the story by giving the description of extra-ordinary beauty of Mathilde the writer says that this woman by being born into this family “as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks.”  We understand the meaning of this comment as we proceed further where we have come to know that as she was born in a middle class clerk family so she has no chance of marrying any rich or distinguished husband who belongs to bourgeoisie class. Thus, at the beginning paragraph the writer intends to say that the distinction between the classes, which is determined by economic condition, will not be merged.
 
The turning point of their life occurs when Mathilde’s husband comes home with the invitation to the ball, it is the day that starts their suffering for belonging to the lower class. Society of that time said that in order to attend a ball one must be dressed gorgeously. Since Mathilde spends most of her time thinking about high class things, she sees no way she can attend without having one of the best dresses and of course some jewelry. Their lack of funds, however, put her in the position that she must borrow some article of jewelry, specifically a diamond necklace from one of her friend who belongs to bourgeoisie. Though the necklace was not made of real diamond, but her upper class friend do not bother to tell it or she intentionally keeps it secrete from her lower class friend. She makes it seem as though it was real in order to make her place in society better. By doing this, this friend also sent Mathilde and her husband to the lowest place in society.  So, we see though they are friends but still there is a class conflict between them which creates a mental distance.
 
Mathilde attends the ball and had a wonderful time. Howerver, when it comes time to leave she has to put on those old outside clothes. So she makes a hasty escape. It is the trends that society’s upper class portrays that made the woman lose the necklace. Had she been comfortable with these people seeing her as she was, there would have been no rush and no losing of the necklace. Soon more of the bourgeoisie’s ideals would come to ruin Mathilde’s way of life. After discovering that the necklace was gone for good, she conceals the truth from her friend. As the friend belongs to high society so it seemes to Mathilde that if it is known that she loses this person’s necklace that she would be even further down the social ladder. So because of these “rules” she decided to find a way to get a new one and it costs ten years to pay the money that borrowed order to purchase the replacement. These ten years are once again taken by the upper class and their greedy way of getting repaid. It sent this couple to the lowest place in society.
 
Thus, the story is a wonderful piece for a Marxist reading, because here most of the characters are determined by the very material condition they are part of. Here we see how the society get divided into two different classes on the basis of the means of production. The people living in the upper strata of the society also determine what is an excepted behavior in a society. The  people living in the lower strata of the society find no other way except to blindly follow the rules determined by the economically privileged class. Thus, the young couple is a victim of the rules, aesthetic values, and social norms of a society determined by a material condition that favours the economically wealthy class. 

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