Literary Comparison of The Story of an Hour and The Necklace
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin and The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant are both short stories associated with the trials and tribulations of marriage, as well as love. Both stories also deal with the emotional and physical changes that are attributed to personal life changing events. In The Story of an Hour, the plot revolves around a woman, Louise Mallard, and her reaction to her husband’s death. In The Necklace, the plot is based upon a married couple M. Loisel and his wife Mathilde, and the turmoil a necklace has caused them. Although there are similarities in the symbolism of both stories, there are differences as well. As well as symbolism, I will compare the way both writers use setting, dialogue, irony, point of view and sub-text in the stories, before reaching a conclusion.
Chopin’s The Story of an Hour in my opinion told quite a story for such a short piece of literature. The main character is Louise Mallard, a married woman with heart trouble. The author made it a point to bestow upon her readers instantaneously, “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p. 6). I was immediately drawn to the story by just the first line, intrigued by what this poor woman must be going through. Interestingly Chopin writes “a heart trouble” where we would normally expect the phrase “heart trouble”: this unusual usage springs to our attention and is an early hint of the problem with Louise’s marriage. Ironically, the story begins by making the reader believe Louise will be devastated over the death of her husband, and in fact she is not.
Louise’s reaction was not entirely surprising in my opinion, although she did not react with, “a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p. 6). As most people who lose someone they love, Louise felt abandoned in some way. It was not until her weeping had subsided that she took the time to be alone, and process what she had just been told. At this point in the story, she proceeds to her room to take it all in. This is when we begin to see her true inner feelings regarding her husband’s death. As Louise begins to comprehend what has just happened, she starts to think of how it will change her life.
In Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace, the main characters are Mathilde Loisel and her husband. Again, the very first paragraph of the story peaked my curiosity in such a way that there was an immediate desire to see what would come next. Mathilde, we soon find out, had the misfortune of being born into just a working class family. Because of this, she is destined to remain “just average”, and she states that, “she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 8.2 p.1). One must wonder what kind of happiness this poor woman could have in an arranged marriage. It appears as though Mathilde is not at all happy with the life her husband provides for her, which in turn makes the reader doubt that she even loves her husband at all (Corob, n.d.).
Mathilde continues to present herself as a woman who seeks out the life of luxury. She seems to be never satisfied with what she has, and very solemn about it. “She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs.” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 8.2 p.2). The narrator goes on to say that these things “tortured her and made her feel indignant.” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 8.2 p. 2). It is clear that Mathilde is unhappy about how she lives, yet her husband strives to give her more. He returns from work one evening, very excited that he has a wonderful surprise for her, an invitation to a fancy dinner party. Rather than be grateful for what he has done to get her this invitation, her response is “What do you want me to do with that?” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 8.2 p. 2). The irony here is that even when Mathilde is presented the opportunity to enjoy an evening as a wealthy woman would, she still is not content, and despite that, her husband still clearly wants to make her happy.
When compared to Chopin’s story, both women appear to be unhappy in their marriages. In The Story of an Hour, this is expressed when the author states, “And yet she had loved him-sometimes. Often she had not.” (Clugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p. 2).
Both writers use symbolism effectively. The necklace symbolizes the better life that Mathilde dreams of and thinks she has achieved on the night of the ball. Even the fact that the stones of the lost necklace are false is symbolic: Maupassant is suggesting that her dreams of material improvement are false and almost worthless. Chopin’s use of symbolism is more pervasive. The open window and the description of spring represent Louise’s vision of her future life without her her husband. She sees clouds – which represent the grief she will pretend to show to keep society happy – but there are also “patches of blue sky” (Chugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2. p ) which are her hopes for the future. The chair that she sinks into after entering her room to be alone is a symbol of stability and is a sanctuary from the oppressions of her marriage. Even her heart trouble is slightly symbolic, because we might see it as not a real physical problem, but a symbol of the fact that she does not love her husband.
Both stories use the literary concept of irony. In ‘the story of an hour’ almost everything is ironic: Mr. Mallard is supposed to be dead but is alive; he survives, but his wife does die when she sees him at the end of the story; Louise is expected to cry when told about her husband’s death and she does – but the underlying reason is that she is happy; Josephine is worried that Louise is making herself ill by isolating herself in her room, but the opposite is true – she is starting to relish the freedom that her husband’s death will give her; and the final sentence is ironic too, because the reader knows that the doctors are wrong and that Louise dies from grief at her husband being alive. I think there is an even more subtle irony too: when the reader realizes that Louise is happy that her husband is dead, we might imagine that it is because he is especially cruel to her, but Chopin tells us (from Louise’s point of view) that her husband’s “face… had never looked save with love upon her” (Chugston, Ch 1, p 7) and also that “she had loved him” (Chugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p 2). It was an unhappy, constricting marriage but there was some love and her husband did not abuse her – so it could be said that it is ironic that she is so happy when she thinks he is dead.
In The Necklace the irony is arguably confined to the end of the story when it is revealed that the lost necklace was made of fake diamonds and was worth only 500 francs. But retrospectively it makes the whole story ironic because the ten years of hard work and drudgery required have been completely unnecessary. Furthermore, it is ironic that Mathilde, in pursuing a life-style denied her by her class and her husband’s income by going to the ball and then losing the necklace, condemns herself to an even worse life as she and her husband struggle to pay off the debt for the replacement necklace. This hard life affects her physically and by the end of the story she has become the exact opposite of what she had hoped to become: “ Mme. Loisel seemed aged now. She had become the robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household.” (Chugston Ch 8, p ??). I detect further irony in the way the necklace is lost. We never find out where Mathilde lost the necklace, but at the end of the ball when her husband covers her shoulders she rushes away to the cab, because she is deeply embarrassed by the “wraps he had brought to go home in, modest garments of everyday life, the poverty of which was out of keeping with the elegance of the ball dress. She felt this, and wanted to fly so as not to be noticed by the other women, who were wrapping themselves up in rich furs.” (Chugston, 2010. Ch 8.2 p?). Her husband offers to go and find a cab, but she rushes out. This rush to leave might suggest that the necklace is lost at some point in their rushed departure: if we accept this then it is ironic – Mathilde’s embarrassment at looking poor causes her to lose the necklace and, eventually, to become even poorer.
Point of view is important in both stories. Maupassant and Chopin both write as omniscient narrators, but we see events from the point of view of the central female character – Mathilde and Louise. This has some interesting implications for the way the endings are written. In The Necklace Maupassant ends the story with Mme. Forester’s words; because we have seen events from Mathilde’s point of view we do not need to hear her reply – we can imagine it or at least speculate about it. The Story of an Hour differs slightly because everything is told by the narrator or from the perspective of Louise, but Chopin suddenly switches the point of view in the final sentence – “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills.” (Chugston Ch 2, p 8). I have already pointed out the irony in this, but the irony is enhanced by the sudden shift in the point of view.
Setting is used differently in both stories. Maupassant gives us a much stronger sense of what daily life in 19th century Paris must have been like for both the rich (the description of the ball) and the poor (the hardships the Loisels suffer while paying for the replacement necklace). By contrast, setting in Chopin’s story is minimal and less important: the scene that Louise observes through the open window is important, but, as I have written above, its function is largely symbolic.
The stories use dialogue very differently. Maupassant uses a lot of dialogue and it usually reveals character – the bickering of the Loisels and Mathilde’s negative attitude to her husband. In contrast, Chopin hardly uses any dialogue at all and it does not reveal character. Louise talks mainly to herself and it is through her reflections that we get a sense of her real feelings – “‘Free! Body and soul free!’ she kept whispering.” (Chugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p 8)
It is in the sub-text of both stories that we see some important similarities and this is connected to the dates of publication and the position of women at that time. Both women are trapped with husbands that they do not really love. In the 19th century in France and in America divorce was possible but very expensive and also carried with it a huge social stigma. Both women are trapped for life in unhappiness.
Ironically the husbands in both stories love their wives: Loisel does everything he can to make his wife happy, but she remains dissatisfied; we are told that Brently Mallard loved his wife deeply. So both stories portray the dilemma of women who have no control over their own lives. Chopin tells us that before she heard of her husband’s death “…she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.” (Chugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p 8), but before she leaves her room “She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long.” (Chugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p 8).
Maupassant, however, does touch on other social themes: The Necklace is also a commentary on class and social status, and the desire for material wealth. Mathilde is unhappy because her husband earns so little, but, of course, her aspirations for a better life lead, ironically, to ten years of an even worse life.
Of the two stories I prefer The Story of an Hour because of its brevity and because I think it is better written. Madonne M. Miner argues that a careful reading of Chopin’s story prepares the reader for the fact that the husband is alive (Miner, 1982, p 32). Josephine uses “veiled hints” that are “half-concealing” (Chugston, 2010. Ch. 2.2 p 6): of course, this is to slowly break the terrible news to her sister, but we might re-read “vague hints” to see it as applying to the facts of the railroad accident. In addition, Chopin tells us that Louise’s husband’s name was “leading the list of “killed”” (Chugston, 2010. Ch 2.2. p 6). Surely Chopin’s decision to put the word “killed” in inverted commas is a clear hint that Brently is not dead. It is Chopin’s subtle use of subtext that arguably ensures her greatness as a writer: “subtext is the difference between mediocre writing and that of genius.” (Kelley, 1994, p 344) Some readers have found Maupassant’s stories too contrived: “For many readers Maupassant’s technique was so skilful that it masked a lack of substance in his stories – stories that merely trick the reader rather than develop any substantial theme.” (Myszor, 2001. Ch 1, p15-16). The objection seems to be that his stories “click too conveniently to their epigrammatic conclusions2. (Artinian p. 11). I disagree with this – his themes of social aspiration and the unhappiness of marriage are encapsulated in the way the story ends. As Myszor states: “In the case of The Necklace the final purpose does in fact serve a thematic purpose as well as a narrative one.” (Myszor, Ch1, p 16) However, Chopin’s brevity and use of symbolism is more compelling and concentrated than Maupassant’s story.
Artinian, Artine, (1943). 2Maupassant as Seen by American and British Writers of Today”, The French Review, Vol. 17, No 1. Retrieved from
Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education,
Inc. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books.
Corob, J. (n.d.). Literary Analysis: The use of symbolism in “The Necklace,” by Guy de
Maupassant. Retrieved from
Kelley, Annetta, (1994)“The Sparkle of Diamonds: Kate Chopin’s Usage of Subtext in Stories and Novels”. Louisiana History: The Journal of Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 35, No.3.
Madonne M. Miner (1998) "The Story of an Hour: Veiled Hints: An Affective Stylist's Reading of Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour"." Short Stories for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/story-hour/veiled-hints-an-affective-stylists-reading-kate.
Myszor, Frank, (2001) The Modern Short Story, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press.