Literary Analysis of The Necklace and The Lottery
Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery both reveal different thematic elements to establish a particular theme which is apparent in the time of their writing. Themes which are related to moral and social issues are illustrated by means of different literary elements
Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Necklace is famous in its own way of revealing and illustrating the historical context and situation of women in the 19th century.
The author reveals the behavior and restraints of women as they struggle to identify themselves in a male dominated society by means of thematic elements. The theme focused more on the social structure of the 19th century when women were unfortunately treated as lesser creatures than men. In the story of The Necklace, Madame Loisel, a beautiful and ambitious young woman is invited in the ministry’s ball with her husband. However, Madame Loisel becomes hesitant because she knows that many significant and rich people in the society will be present.
She and her husband are not in any way, rich. In the introductory part of the story, the author describes her as “one of those pretty and charming girls born, as though fate had blundered over her, into a family of artisans” (de Maupassant).
De Maupassant already provides historical and cultural background in the first paragraph of the story as he literally describes the role of women in the 19th century France. He discusses how Madame Loisel feels miserable with her poor situation society “for women have no caste or class, their beauty, grace, and charm serving them for birth or family” (de Maupassant). This description of women in the story reveals their limited role in the society, thus, presenting the concept of women’s restrictions in the society. De Maupassant further solidifies this reality by adding how “their natural delicacy, their instinctive elegance, their nimbleness of wit are their only mark of rank” (de Maupassant).
In this regard, De Maupassant wishes to symbolize the confinement to the current situation of women of the 19th century who are locked up in their role as merely wives and mothers. They are exclusive to domestic purposes only without any right to identify themselves as individual people. The story wishes to open people’s mind in the dangers of restricting women not only literally but also in the sociological and mental aspect. The theme of pride is also very apparent in the story. A critic states that, “The loss of the necklace restores reality but does not end pride” (Fusco 28). Madame Loisel becomes disillusioned by her own ambitiousness and pride. She becomes too obsessed with the idea of fitting in the social circle that she goes as far as buying an expensive dress and borrowing a diamond necklace to attract the high-class people in the ministry’s ball.
She danced madly, ecstatically, drunk with pleasure, with no thought for anything, in the triumph of her beauty, in the pride of her success, in a cloud of happiness made up of this universal homage and admiration, of the desires she had aroused, of the completeness of a victory so dear to her feminine heart. (de Maupassant).
It is clear even today that social status is essential to some ambitious women especially with the French women. Social gatherings are very frequent events where women usually dress up to gain attention and increase their popularity. In Madame Loisel’s situation, she becomes miserable because of her dissatisfaction in life. “She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains. All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and insulted her” (de Maupassant).
Theme also plays a major role in the development of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It has a dark tone that gives its readers a hint of its similarly dark theme. Jackson’s ability to conceal the story’s ultimate plot or conflict makes it more interesting to read and finish. In the story, Tessie Hutchinson was stoned to death by her own family and neighbors who were convinced that she was the one chosen to be sacrificed in return for good harvest by the “lottery”. She has fallen victim to a process which was utterly illogical and selfish. Even her own family accepted this fact and contributed to her death without a trace of remorse. Her final lines in the story show how she thought of the process as unfair: “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (Jackson 15).
“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green” (Jackson 187). The story starts off with a seemingly delightful tone which describes the setting of the town. It does not reveal anything dark or deathly at all. The initial description of the town does not suggest any dark theme or wickedness. Its description can actually even be considered as a common description of a small American old town. The first paragraph also introduces the term “lottery” in the town. It describes the townspeople’s gathering for the lottery. The narrative claims that the lottery “could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner” (Jackson 187). This particular statement only tells the readers of the how much time would be spent in the lottery event but does not tell what happens during lotteries. At first, this would leave the readers the impression that the lottery can just be something of a normal and not so serious event in the town where everyone can go back home afterwards and eat their dinner. “The children assembled first,” (Jackson 187). This gives an impression that the lottery is quite fun for the kids. The idea that the kids are described to be leading the collection of stones indicates a fun event. This way of describing the town’s preparation for the lottery conceals the real dark nature of the event and provides an ironic tone. Describing the town to be in a bright sunny day state with kids enthusiastically stuffing stones in their pockets suggest a joyful day when in fact it is a day for murder.
The town’s annual lottery represents the past traditional American towns which rely largely in superstitious beliefs. The belief is too irrational that the villagers depend on the “ability” of the black box to choose the person who is to be sacrificed in exchange for good harvest. Jackson’s story reminds its readers of the shortcomings of traditional beliefs in an American setting which is quite common in the past centuries. Furthermore, the portrayal of the characters in the story somewhat represent what is happening in our society today. Probably, it does not symbolize the world as a whole but rather, the people occupying it. The theme reveals the “dark side of human mentality” as Jackson tackles the evils that tradition can bring about to a society (Hooper 53)..
Clearly, Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery are not fairy tale stories but they contain moral lessons that show the evil that traditional dominance can bring. Both illustrates the theme of tradition and patriarchal ascendancy that jeopardize the lives of the main characters in the stories.
De Maupassant, Guy. “The Necklace.” Classic Short Stories. 19 April 2009. <http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/necklace.html>
Fusco, Robert. Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of Form at the Turn of the Century. Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 1994.
Hooper, Brad. The Short Story Readers’ Advisory: A Guide to the Best. United States of America: American Library Association Editions, 2000.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The American Fantasy Tradition. Ed. Brian M. Thomsen Macmillan, 2003. 187-193.
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