A particular feature of the literature is that it can send the author’s message in various ways and reach a target reader out of the crowd of ignorant ones. This can be often achieved through the hidden meaning inside a literary work or through irony, satire and caricature of the reality described. The aim of the present work is to compare and contrast Anton Chekhov’s play “The Proposal” and Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace”. In this context, the comparison will be conducted in the framework of the depicting of the same theme of gender roles and marriage in different ways. Attention will be also paid to the contents, form of two works and writing styles. Appropriate conclusions will be given in the end of the paper.
Satiric Caricature vs. Ironic Realism
In the history of human development, there were various ways for people to express their ideas and send their messages to a wider audience. One of the most popular means of ideas sharing and spreading was and remains literature. Particular feature of the literature is that it can send author’s message in various ways and reach the target reader out of the crowd of ignorant ones. This can be achieved through the hidden meaning inside a literary work or through application of irony, satire and caricature on the reality. Thus, due to the variety of means of idea spreading, it is up to the author how he would like to explain himself and what message to send the audience. In order to understand how authors might manage to explain themselves in different ways, it is rationale to analyze works of two authors describing the same theme but with different means. Thus, the aim of the present work is to compare and contrast Anton Chekhov’s play “The Proposal” and Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace”. In this context, the comparison will be conducted in the framework of the depicting of the same theme of gender roles and marriage in different ways. Attention will be also paid to the contents, form of two works and styles. Appropriate conclusions will be given in the end of the paper.
First of all, in both cases, authors refer to the theme of gender roles and marriage. In this regard, they show the complexity of interpersonal relations in families not from the point of simple interpersonal relations of love and sympathy rather in the framework of the society-imposed roles (Olshnkskaya, 2000). Chekhov shows marriage as an economic means for an individual and his family to improve their social status and gain certain benefits for the future generations (Gottlieb, 1982). That is why he places the main emphasis on the properties owned by Lomov and his actual status of a landowner. This statement is also supported by the fact that the initial argument between Natalia and Lomov was about border property between two estates. Natalia’s mercantilism is also shown in her change of attitude the moment she heard about Lomov’s intention to propose to her. Under those circumstances, the boarder property meant nothing since two estates were to be united under common family rule (Olshnkskaya, 2000).
On the other hand, de Maupassant showed social conditionality of marriage from the point of fiasco in one couple’s attempt to achieve happiness and satisfaction with each other and their social status of miserable middle-class family. In this context, there is no love between Mathilde and Charles, or rather there is his love for her and desire to satisfy her ambitions, while she is entirely concentrated on her misfortune of marrying a simple clerk (Miall, 2006). Although, in both works, the social factor of family relationship was shown through different perspectives, gender roles were described relatively the same. Men tried to court women in order to feel themselves more complete and masculine in their appearance; women, on the other hand, tried to achieve through their marriage or matrimonial status as much benefits as it was possible in each situation (Olshnkskaya, 2000).
The difference between two cases was rather a social matter than marriage or family issue. In Chekhov’s story, Lomov and Natalia were relatively equal in their tempers and desire to fight for their beliefs. In this regard, it should not be considered that they were fighting with each other in order to gain victory; it was the matter of courtship and a play understandable for the audience contemporary to Chekhov. They knew that Natalia had more power in her argument due to her social status, but that eventually she would have to submit to the will of her husband, the way their society dictated (Gottlieb, 1982).
In case of Mathilde and Charles, the situation was quite the opposite. Being in the marriage, they belonged to the same social class, and the only power Mathilde possessed over her husband originated in her femininity and matrimonial status and not in her or her family’s property. In this context, she could be submissive to her husband if their attitude and perception of life were the same or if her mercantile needs were satisfied by his status. Since, her ambitions were much higher than Charles’ actual potential; she was gaining the masculine features in her character. This was shown both in her demand of his submission to her desires and also in further realization of true meaning of money and wealth (Olshnkskaya, 2000). In this context, the evolution of her charter is meant. Unlike her husband, who remained the same over the whole timeline of the necklace story, she evolved in her maturity and masculinity of money evaluation and responsibility for one’s desires and actions.
In this regard, Maupassant made a step forward in expression of changing gender roles in his society, while Chekhov showed relatively the same parity of roles imposed. Those roles remained the same, irrespective of the material status of two individuals. Woman was gaining some power during the courtship, but the decision over her marriage was always imposed by an elder male in the family. In this context, it should not be forgotten that Chekhov was writing in satirical manner and his play was an actual farce on the reality contemporary to him (Gottlieb, 1982). On the other hand, Maupassant was keener to ironical description of everyday life. Therefore, his description was rather realistic with the application of the irony than satirical.
The difference in endurance/finality dichotomy can be explained by forms of two literary works. Since Chekhov’s work was one-act play, it was rationale to concentrate only on one specific episode of the couple’s life. Due to the spatial limits and dialogue-based nature of the play, he could express his vision of the reality only through the characters’ dialogues, expressiveness of the tone and choice of words (Gottlieb, 1982). Therefore, ridicule of the situations and satiric contents of the dialogues were the most expressive means of the author’s attitude to the reality of matrimony in Russia of his times. On the other hand, in case of the short story, Maupassant had benefits of the critical remarks of the third person – narrator, while Chekhov could express himself only though the dialogues and satire (Olshnkskaya, 2000).
Maupassant does not express his attitude through exact critical remarks about the whole story or characters, rather through small hints and proper words choices. For instance, the commonality of Mathilde’s behavior and belonging of her gender role to the miserable middle class can be derived from his phrase “one of those girls” (Maupassant, 1971, p. 74). This little phrase is more expressive than numerous paragraphs describing personal attitude. It tells that the author had witnessed other cases and that they belong to the same society, which makes the narration more realistic and critical (Miall, 2006). On the other hand, he also described the characteristic behavior of the middle class, which again showed author’s sympathy and pitting of those people.
Therefore, in the context of author’s self-expression in his creation, the play form of Chekhov’s work limited him, while Maupassant had more freedom in the framework of short story. On the other hand, in the case of Chekhov’s narration, his works are not much about expressiveness but more about meaningfulness. In this regard, Julio Cortazar argued:
Although this quote was initially used in respect to Chekhov, it is also applicable to Maupassant. In this regard, both authors aimed at meaningfulness and expressiveness of their perception of theme in literary works. As it was mentioned, due to the difference in forms, the degree of expressiveness was different in two works; therefore, the meaningfulness was also different. Thus, in order to make his work more meaningful and expressive Chekhov’s style of narration had to be satiric. He made his play an actual farce. The main benefit of farce is that the ridiculous nature of a situation does not only amuse the audience, it also makes the audience compare the situation with reality (Gottlieb, 1982). Through a satiric, surreal and comic style of narration, Chekhov managed to achieve the expressiveness, which the form of play denied him. On the other hand, Maupassant was a follower of critical realism, based on irony with satiric elements. The meaningfulness of his story was achieved through application of tragedy as part of the ironic ending (Miall, 2006). The lameness of vanity and unfairness of reality shown in the story, make the audience reconsider their own system of values. This, in its turn, shows the author’s moral advice, expresses the meaningfulness of the narration and proves a wider functionality of the form of short story.
Another criterion to compare two works is the problem of space limit which both forms have in common. In both cases, authors managed to put needed contents within the limits through uniqueness of their writing styles. Chekhov relied on initial description of the relation between main heroes and further shaping of their characters through diverse tones of dialogues and actual behavior. Both Lomov and Natalia were quite emotional in their expressions, which was depicted in the picturesque long sentences and certain phrases in contrast to the parts of dialogue when they were not fighting, which were characterized by calm tone and more formal sentences (Olshnkskaya, 2000).
The same result was achieved through the beginning of the new sentence with the same word and application of the same sentence structure. From certain perspective, Maupassant can be criticized for the oversimplification of the writing style, particularly in comparison to Chekhov’s colorful and emotional narration (Olshnkskaya, 2000). On the other hand, from the functional point of view, just as Chekhov used colorful adjectives and comparisons in order to express characters’ emotions during the fight, Maupassant used simplification to achieve his goals. First of all, he needed to tell a life-long story within the limits of a short story. Secondly, the dryness and simplicity of style contributed to realism and credibility of the whole story for the audience (Miall, 2006).
Connecting all mentioned above elements to the central theme of both literary works, it can be argued that Chekhov made a caricature on the courtship and socio-economic conditionality of marriage in his society. He managed to do this in the form of farce – humorous play, ridiculing the main characters through an expressive and colorful language of humorous dialogues. On the other hand, Maupassant was less critical about his society, but more compassionate and pitiful about it. This was shown through his realistic irony about the values of the middle-class family contemporary to him. He was compassionate because, he was not laughing on Mathilde’s misery, but simply showed the depth of her despair and desire to be someone else. The realism and irony were shown through simplicity of narration and symbolism of objects like necklace.
In both cases, authors managed to show the main theme of gender roles and socio-economic conditionality of marriage in their societies. Except for the mentioned differences in two literary works, one more thing should be mentioned. The crucial part of any creative work is personality of the author and his motives for creating that work. Since, motivational and personal matters remain unknown for the analysts, each literary work will always be unique and mysterious in its own way. After all, literary analysis is also a subjective matter and personal interpretation of the author of this paper.
Chekhov, A. (1982). The Proposal. In V. Gottlieb (Ed.), Chekhov and the Vaudeville. (pp. 63-78). Cambridge, CA: Cambridge University Press.
Cortazar, J. (1999). Some Aspects of the Short Story. The Review of Contemporary Fiction.19 (3), 25-37.
Gottlieb V. (1982). Chekhov and the Vaudeville. Cambridge, CA: Cambridge University Press.
Olshnkskaya, N.L. (2000). Opposition or Identification: Chekhov’s Plays on Screen. West Virginia University Philological Papers, 69-76.
Maupassant, Guy de. (1971).Selected Shirt Stories. London. LD: Penguin Classics.
Miall, D. S. (2006). Literary reading: empirical and theoretical studies. New York, NY: Peter Lang.