In this lesson, we’ll discuss figurative language in ”The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. First, we’ll review the definition of figurative language, then we’ll go over some examples in the story and show how they contribute to its meaning.
Figurative Language in ‘The Necklace’
We all use figurative language every day, often without thinking about it. Figurative language refers to forms of expression that are not literal, but convey meaning to an audience through the use of images.
In literature, there are several kinds of figurative language that work in specific ways. Some examples of commonly used figurative language include metaphor, synecdoche, simile, hyperbole, personification, allusion, and symbolism.In the short story ‘The Necklace’ by French author Guy de Maupassant, significant uses of figurative language include personification, symbolism, and hyperbole. They help us to understand the perspectives of Mathilde Loisel and her husband, who is simply called Loisel in the story.
Before we go any further, it should be noted that because we are reading ‘The Necklace’ as a translation from French to English, the phrasing of some quotations in your copy of the story may vary somewhat from those used here. This is because translators have differing opinions on exactly how each sentence should read in English to achieve the best effect or the meaning closest to the one originally used by the author.
Personification is the assignment of human qualities to an object, abstract concept, or any non-human thing. In the story’s very first sentence, we encounter the phrase ‘as if through an error of destiny.
‘ The language used here suggests that fate has made a mistake in causing Mathilde to be born into a lower-class family, much like a clerk leaving a typo in a document. This makes the abstract concept of destiny seem more human and so is an example of personification. It is important to note that it is Mathilde who feels that a mistake has been made, and this image is used to show the reader her perspective.
In ‘The Necklace,’ Mathilde is dissatisfied with her simple lifestyle as a clerk’s wife, and she daydreams about being a lady of the upper class.
But Maupassant does not refer to this life directly or categorically. Instead, he uses images that Matilda associates with it. Specifically, she imagines having expensive decor, furnishings, waitstaff, and food, such as wall tapestries, bronze torches, footmen, and ‘rose-colored’ trout meat. In contrast, her husband is content and even enthusiastic about eating an ordinary potpie, which for him is part of a ‘good’ life. However, for Mathilde, the lifestyle of the wealthy itself also represents her own unfulfilled potential, because she believes that she is born to be a creature of grace and refinement.The main symbolic object in the story is, of course, the ‘diamond’ necklace she borrows from Mrs.
Forestier. For Mathilde, the necklace represents the elegant appearance she will display at the Minister’s Ball, which is itself an opportunity to pretend that she belongs in the company of the upper-class invitees who will attend. The fact that she does not realize the diamonds are not quite genuine further symbolizes her inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, or appearances and facts.For her husband, the borrowed necklace starts out as a simple, practical financial solution (he cannot afford to buy jewelry and knows it will be easy to borrow it) that turns into a complicated, impractical financial problem. When Mathilde loses the necklace after the ball, he borrows money from multiple lenders to replace the necklace without knowing if he will ever be able to pay it back.
Similarly, Maupassant uses hyperbole to show the melodramatic nature of Mathilde’s discontent. He writes that she ‘suffer(s) incessantly’ because of her apartment’s shabbiness.
After visiting a friend financially more well-off than herself, she ‘we(eps) for whole days from chagrin, from regret, from despair, and disappointment.’ When she is able to go to the ball wearing the necklace and her new dress, she suddenly becomes ‘the prettiest of all,’ enjoying the fact that ‘all the men noticed her.’ In both her positive and negative emotions, Mathilde’s perception of reality (where the importance of a luxurious lifestyle is concerned) is highly exaggerated and distorted.
This lesson explored the use of figurative language in French author Guy de Maupassant’s short story ‘The Necklace’.
In it, we defined this literary term and listed several examples of figurative language. The lesson examined how some of these—specifically, personification, symbolism, and hyperbole—are used in the story. It also explained how the use of these literary devices contributes to the meaning of the narrative by illustrating the points of view of Mathilde and her husband.