The Secret Life Of The Necklace English Literature Essay
Nicole M. Pasquale
Introduction to Literature
Professor Jena Klein
For my final paper I have picked "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber and "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant, upon which to do my contrast and comparison. I will compare the usage of themes, character roles such as Protagonist and Antagonist, tools of characteristics, narrator point of view, genre, tone and settings within these two stories, along with the contrast to the best of my ability.
Let me start a short overview of the short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". This short-story tells the tale of Walter Mitty while on a trip into town with his wife, the overbearing and critical Mrs. Mitty. Walter is unfortunately incapable of doing many things; he forgets things, is absent-minded while driving, and can't handle simple tasks. But, what makes Walter extraordinary throughout this short-story is his imagination.
While Walter goes through his errands, he escapes into a world of many fantasies, each brought on by reality. While driving his car he imagines that he is a commander on "a Navy hydroplane" going through a storm. (Clugston, 2010) While passing a hospital, he believes he is a famous surgeon, known throughout the world saving a life. He imagines he is being interrogated in court on a case, when he hears a newsboy yelling about a trial. Also, when he is waiting for his wife, he imagines himself to be a British pilot after seeing pictures of a German plane. And lastly, as he waits outside the drugstore for his wife, he fantasizes that he is about to be shot at by a firing squad and then the story ends with Mr. Mitty awaiting his death.
The author James Thurber uses melodrama to keep his readers engaged throughout this short-story. It is also the usage of imagination that the reader sees, while reading that allows them to bond with Walter Mitty, sharing in the experience of his fantasies, throughout the story. Overall, I see this short-story as being a comedy, because, throughout the story, I found myself chuckling at the fantasies that Walter Mitty is partaking in.
In a short overview of the short-story "The Necklace" we meet a middle class woman, who desperately wishes that she were wealthy. Her name is Mathilde Loisel; she has looks and charm, but unfortunately was born into a family of clerks. She then marries a clerk in the Department of Education. Mathilde is convinced that she is meant to be rich and detests her real life. She spends all of her day dreaming about the wondrous life she's doesn’t have, including fancy parties, furniture, and young, rich men who would lust after her.
Mr. Loisel comes home from work one day with an invitation from his boss the Minister of Education for a fancy ball that he is hosting. Mr. Loisel went to a lot of trouble to be invited to this ball, but the first reaction Mathilde has is to throw a fit. She proceeds to tell her husband that she can’t go because she doesn't have a nice dress to wear. Her husband, Mr. Loisel offers to buy her a new dress, which she accepts. It's not long before Mathilde throws another fit, this time about her lack of jewelry to wear. Mr. Loisel suggests that she ask her friend Madame Forestier if she can lend her something. Madame Forestier ends Mathilde a beautiful diamond necklace.
When the night of the ball arrives Mathilde has a grand time, everyone loves her and she is very happy. When Mathilde and her husband, who happened to fall asleep in a corner during the party go to leave Mathilde rushes outside while leaving to avoid being seen in her shabby coat by the other guests. Upon arriving home, Mathilde makes a horrifying discovery she has lost Madame Forestier’s diamond necklace.
Mr. Loisel spends all of the next week, searching throughout the city for the necklace, but it is never found. They have no choice but to replace Madame Forestier’s necklace. They go from one jewelry store after another until they find a necklace just like the one that was lost. Unfortunately, it is 36 thousand francs, so the Loisel’s go into a significant amount of debt and purchase the necklace, and gives it to Madame Forestier, who doesn't notice that this is not her original necklace. Buying the necklace puts the Loisel’s into poverty for the next ten years.
After all the debts are paid ten years later Mathilde while out for a walk, comes across Madame Forestier. Mathilde decides she wants to finally tell Madame Forestier the upsetting news of the necklace and her ten years of living in poverty. At that point, Madame Forestier clearly upset about the turn of events reveals to Mathilde that the necklace she lost was just a fake and only worth five hundred francs.
In this short-story, "The Necklace" the author Guy de Maupassant, uses melodrama to keep his audience interested in his story. He accomplished this in the story, because throughout my reading I was waiting and hoping to see that the necklace was found. There by ending the Loisel’s sudden downward spiral into poverty. He also uses the "necklace" as a symbol by showing that the expensive nature of the necklace is not the only way wealth is seen in to this story.
In comparing "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "The Necklace", it is obvious that both of the main characters want to be living different lives than they are currently doing. Mr. Mitty retreats into a fantasy world as an escape from his mundane every day life. Because in his real life, he feels he is ordinary, passive, and sometimes inept. But, in his imaginative world, Mitty believes he is strong, decisive, and possesses qualities he lacks in real life. The story offers a comedic perspective on the matter: Walter Mitty and his amusing and somewhat endearing fantasies. On the other hand, there is a darker element in this story, which is that he never achieves what he dreams of. And, Mathilde the main character of "The Necklace" is obviously obsessed with wealth. Throughout the story she wants to escape from her middle-class life, middle-class husband and live the glamorous life, of which she believes she was born to have. But, when Mathilde's given the chance to go to the ball, it seems like her dreams have finally become a reality. Then she loses the diamond necklace she borrowed, and has to go from middle-class to poverty, and learns what it means to live without any money whatsoever.
Walter Mitty makes for an interesting character to study. The roles he plays in his fantasies are, typical protagonists’ bold, decisive, skilled men who take charge and impress everyone around them. But in real-life Walter Mitty is rather different he is constantly belittled, incompetent with everyday tasks, and an ordinary guy. So we think of Walter Mitty as an everyday hero, not like the ones you see on TV or in the movies, but someone you can relate to on a regular basis in real life.
It is because of the antagonism of those around him, ex: Mrs. Mitty, the police officer, and the parking attendant that Walter constantly retreats into fantasy. Mr. Mitty contends with other characters opinions of him by creating alter-egos, who are powerful for himself, alter-egos that the antagonists in his life would never think of belittling.
Mathilde Loisel is the central character of her story. We don’t see many other characters, except her husband and Madame Forestier mentioned in passing. The entire story is about Mathilde, and her dissatisfaction with life and her deep desire for wealth that set the plot in motion. The story's high point is her fleeting moment of happiness. She may not be the most sympathetic protagonist, but while reading the story it is kind of hard not to feel sorry for her, especially after her life changes for the worst.
There's no one in "The Necklace" who opposes Mathilde. She is miserable from the beginning of the story and throughout, but what is responsible for making her miserable is questionable. It all depends on how we the reader assign that responsibility. I could say that it is just her bad luck to have been born into a middle-class family, or I could say that it is her greed which makes her unhappy. I could possibly even say that it is the antagonist is the patriarchal society in which she lives.
Let us take a look at how the authors of these two short-stories I have chosen to compare use settings to set the stage of each story. First, Walter Mitty’s fantasies in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" take us into a fantasy world. Though Thurber mentions the city of Waterbury, but never mentions the state of Connecticut, we can take a pretty good guess that he's talking about the only Waterbury in the Tri-state area. If you grew up north, like I do you would recognize the geographical area and make the connection.
The real-life setting is pretty mundane: the hairdresser, the parking lot attendant, the hotel lobby, all everyday places or people in any town or city. The lack luster of these locations reflects the lusterless world of Walter's everyday life. This is in contrast with Walter's fantasies: as flying a "Navy hydroplane" in a storm, performing surgery in an operating room, being a witness in a court case, or facing a firing squad while standing against a wall. All of these settings are dramatic, exciting, and out of the ordinary, especially, since we know Walter’s life is anything but exciting.
The story of "The Necklace" is set in Paris, the city of love and lights, where many other work of 19th century French literature are written about. It is said that Maupassant wrote it around the 1880’s, but a true timeline has never been established.
The one telling thing in this story is that Mathilde dreams of being rich, but doesn't seem concerned about being noble. If the story were written about an earlier era, noble blood would have mattered greater than money to Mathilde. At the time this story takes place, money and a little charm were seen as nobility. Yes, money enables you to buy extravagant things, but can they don’t always make you happy. In the story Mathilde fantasizes about "oriental tapestries", "tall lamps of bronze," the "precious bric-a-brac" in "coquettish little rooms" all telling us about the fashions at that time, as does the intimate, "small-party social life that she idolizes." (Clugston, 2010)
In these short-stories the narration is in the omniscient view, meaning third-party. An omniscient narrator is an all‐knowing narrator very commonly found in fictional works written in third person narrative. The omniscient narrator has full knowledge of the story's events and of the motives and unspoken thoughts of the various characters. They are also capable of describing events happening simultaneously in different places, and capacity not normally available to the limited point of view of a first person narrative.
A third person narrator tells the limited view of Walter Mitty in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". This person is uninvolved in the story. I followed Walter through his day, and I only saw and found out things that Mitty himself saw or knew. What this means is that, although the point of view is told in the third person, Walter’s character overshadows the narrator. The words that are chosen have more to do with Mitty's mindset than with objective narration.
The narrator in "The Necklace" does not speak from Mathilde’s point of view. Instead, the narrator talks about Mathilde as if looking in from the outside. When he starts talking about her at the beginning of the story, she is classified as just "one of those girls" (Clugston, 2010). It sounds as if he has seen many young women just like Mathilde. This is omniscient. But, the narrator doesn’t seem to look only into Mathilde’s thoughts; he also seems to speak her husband’s thoughts also.
Overall, it is hard to deny the comic element in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." Walter Mitty, while endearing, imagines himself as hero, a surgeon, firing squad target and a crack shot. His over-the-top romanticism of the fantasies he creates (the man on the surgeon's table is a millionaire and a close friend of the President; and numerous others) only exaggerates this effect. The fantasies themselves give the story an element of adventure such as the hydroplane in a violent storm; the man standing before a firing squad; and the dramatic McDreamy-type surgery.
While reading "The Necklace" I wondered if it had a clear moral message. After reading I would call the story a parable, which simply put means a work that is to illustrate a "moral." I didn’t think the story had an obvious moral, yet I might even say with uncertainty that it's not a parable, because the moral of a parable is supposed to be obvious.
As I discuss earlier in this paper, there is a clear comic element to the story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Let’s think about all the melodrama of Mitty's fantasies. There's definitely a sense of authorial amusement found within the story. It is as though the author, James Thurber is as entertained as his readers by his creation. It never gets to the point, instead the author seems to admire and encourage me, the reader to admire his singular protagonist. I thought the end of the story showed the best evidence of this. The story ends in one of Walter's fantasies, in which he is "undefeated, inscrutable to the last".
However, in "The Necklace" Mathilde's problem is that she accidentally loses something expensive and has to replace it. It seems sad, that her whole life was ruined on account of one little necklace, but what else can she do? She has to make amends for the valuable thing object she lost. And so her hard work and poverty seems kind of necessary, except ten years seems excessive, but not during the time period this was written: it has a purpose, and I admired the way she persevered. Mathilde's experience helped her grow as a human being and that is something she can be proud of. And in the end she is ready to move on with her life. So, when she meets Madame Forestier on the street, the opportunity for her to come clean about replacing the lost necklace arises, and she thinks that the whole episode will be over.
But then the unexpected happens Madame Forestier revealed that the necklace Mathilde lost was a fake. This was unexpected and it changes the ending of the story completely. If Mathilde and Mr. Loisel had just told Madame Forestier what happened, then they could have paid for it easily, without any debt. This whole time they thought that they were suffering necessarily, they in reality were actually suffering needlessly. By showing the contradiction between what the characters think about their situation, and what their situation actually was, technically makes this a moment of irony. Irony is often the best ingredient to make a twist ending.
In conclusion, while reading both the short-stories, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber and "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant I found more comparable themes, settings, language, etc., than areas of contrast. The one thing that stood out for a contrast between the two were in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", is wife Mrs. Mitty, seemed to be an overbearing woman, who felt that her husband could not think for himself and so, she had to constantly for lack of a better word "belittle" him when telling him what needed to be accomplished while she was at the hairdressers. But, in comparison "The Necklace", Mr. Loisel, did everything possible to make his wife feel loved, wanting nothing more than to make her happy. He took on a great debt to make sure she was not embarrassed by having to tell Madame Forestier that she had lost, what they thought was a very expensive necklace. So these two things were the only contrasts that stood out to me during the readings while working on this paper.