Question #5

How does the literary work comment on the capitalist system? Does it support that system or criticize it?

I believe that “The Diamond Necklace” upholds the hierarchy created by the capitalist system, overall emphasizing that we should not try to change our socioeconomic classes.

The cause of the Loisels’ unhappiness is Mathilde’s inability to accept her position in society. To illustrate this point Guy de Maupassant writes,

“Mathilde suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born to enjoy all delicacies and all luxuries. She was distressed at the poverty of her dwelling, at the bareness of the walls, at the shabby chairs, the ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made her angry.”

He also develops Mathilde Loisel’s materialism by listing expensive objects (commodities) that she desires throughout the story. Essentially, Mme Loisel is disconnected from her material reality; she thinks that more money and more possessions (especially if they make her look pretty) will lead to personal satisfaction. However, Mme Loisel is not supposed to think this way – de Maupassant implies that Mme Loisel is supposed to be content with her situation in life by contrasting her perspective with her husband’s.

While Mme Loisel  is very materialistic and engages in the class struggle Marx describes, her husband is completely fine with their way of life. This is in spite of his class consciousness: he knows his place in society, but has accepted it, and so he does not immediately suffer like his wife does, (though eventually her materialism causes trouble for both of them).

By obtaining commodities such as a fancy dress and jewels, Mme Loisel believes that she can pass into a higher socioeconomic class. However, once she has masqueraded as a member of the bourgeoisie at the party, the loss of the borrowed diamond necklace and following consequences demonstrate the importance of staying within the boundaries of one’s socioeconomic class. Replacing the diamond necklace places an exorbitant economic strain on Mme Loisel and her husband, leading them to actually drop in socioeconomic status.

Pyramid 2

The picture of this proletariat couple struggling to atone for Mme Loisel’s mistake of impersonating the upper class (therefore betraying the capitalist system) is a grim and stressful one. As de Maupassant writes,

“Thereafter Madame Loisel knew the horrible existence of the needy. She bore her part, however, with sudden heroism. That dreadful debt must be paid. She would pay it. They dismissed their servant; they changed their lodgings; they rented a garret under the roof. . . . This life lasted ten years. . . . Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become the woman of impoverished households—strong and hard and rough.”

In the end, the Loisels’ efforts appear to be for nothing when Mme Forestier explains that the original diamond necklace was only “paste! It was worth at most only five hundred francs!” By concluding the story in this manner, I believe that de Maupassant is warning readers who may be part of the proletariat not to make the same mistake that Mme Loisel did or else they will suffer similar consequences. In sum, de Maupassant seems to say that you will be punished if you act upon your class consciousness to resist the capitalist system.

Question #2

How do individuals play out the roles assigned to them by their society, not recognizing their lack of freedom to behave otherwise?

Actually, the cause of all the Loisel’s troubles in this story is Mme Loisel’s inability to accept her position in the middle class/proletariat. Both Mme Loisel and her husband are conscious of their socioeconomic class, but while M. Loisel is satisfied with his position in life, Mme Loisel remains unsatisfied. Her efforts to play the role of a woman in the bourgeoisie demonstrates her failure to understand that she has no freedom to change her situation. Furthermore, Mme Loisel’s rebellion (masquerading as a woman in the upper class) demonstrates conscious participation in class struggle.

If there is one character who plays out her role and is not conscious of it, that would be Mme Forestier. Safely ensconced in the privilege of the upper middle class – perhaps even the bourgeoisie – Mme Forestier benefits from the class hierarchy and so she does not (appear to) consider the ways in which the capitalist system oppresses her neighbors.

Question #1

Power and money are not distributed equally among the characters in “The Diamond Necklace.”

Who has the power and money?

Upper class/bourgeoisie characters such as Mme Forestier have power and money.

Who does not?

Members of the proletariat or working class do not have power and money in this society. Mme Loisel and her husband would be part of the lower middle class – their circumstances much better than poverty – but they would still not be in the bourgeoisie.

Pyramid 1

What happens as a result?

Characters who are part of the lower socioeconomic classes recognize the gap in resources between socioeconomic classes. This awareness is called class consciousness. Once Mme Loisel is aware of her socioeconomic class, she begins to participate in what Marx calls class struggle (where the lower classes battle against the upper classes for equality, or the opportunity to usurp them). Class struggle is, of course, futile and unsatisfying for members of the proletariat.