The Necklace: Symbolism & Irony

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  • 0:04 Literary Devices
  • 0:41 Background to the Story
  • 1:45 Significant Symbols
  • 3:09 Incredible Irony
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, we're going to look in depth at two literary devices used in Guy de Maupassant's short story 'The Necklace.' These devices are symbolism and irony.

Literary Devices

There are many methods authors use to add depth and color to a story, such as metaphors, irony, symbolism, and allusion. These are called literary devices and every story has at least a few. The way they are used and which devices are used varies by story, of course. For example, take a look at Guy de Maupassant's short story ''The Necklace.'' Two major literary devices in this story are symbolism and irony. Symbolism is when an object or action means something beyond its literal appearance. Irony is when what you expect to happen is the opposite of what actually happens.

Background to the Story

Before exploring these literary devices, you need to know what the story is about. ''The Necklace'' focuses on Mathilde Loisel, a young woman married to a minor official. All she wants is to be rich and to have more material goods and the trappings of wealth and high society. One day she and her husband are invited to a ball and she buys a dress and borrows a beautiful diamond necklace from her rich friend, Madame Forestier, for the occasion. Mathilde has a wonderful time at the ball and briefly forgets her status. However, upon leaving the ball, she has to put on her old, worn coat and is severely disappointed to go back to her old life.

During the evening, she loses the necklace and is unable to find it. To replace it, she and Monsieur Loisel borrow huge amounts of money and it takes them ten years to pay it off. After this time, she runs into her rich friend again and tells her what has happened, blaming Madame Forestier for her poverty. Madame Forestier then reveals that the necklace was actually a fake and she had no idea they had replaced it with a real one.

Significant Symbols

The Necklace

The most significant symbol in the story is the necklace itself, which is no surprise given the story's title. The necklace represents everything that Mathilde wants and does not have, all the material possessions of a finer life. This is why Mathilde is drawn to it:

''Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her heart began to beat with uncontrolled desire.''

This is the most magnificent piece of jewelry she has ever seen and she feels that to wear it would give her the aura of wealth she has always wanted. This is, after all, what the necklace symbolizes: wealth and status.

Later in the story, the necklace continues to represent wealth in a slightly different way. After Mathilde and her husband go into debt and poverty, the necklace symbolizes the wealth that Mathilde can now never hope to have.

The Coat

One other symbol in ''The Necklace'' is the coat that Mathilde has to put on to leave the party. She's extremely ashamed of it, especially in comparison to her beautiful new dress and necklace:

''He threw over her shoulders the clothes he had brought for her to go outside in, the modest clothes of an ordinary life, whose poverty contrasted sharply with the elegance of the ball dress.''

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