Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Appearance versus Reality

Guy de Maupassant, "The Necklace," 1984, translated by Marjorie Laurie.

Maupassant (1850-1893) wrote a wonderful short story called the necklace. In this story he describes a clerk's wife who is unhappy with her lot in life. The author sets up the story beautifully from the very beginning:

"She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if by mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks. She has no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, wedded by any rich and distinguished man; and she let herself be married to a little clerk at the Ministry of Public Instructions."

This displays a master craftsman at work. Maupassant apprenticed for seven years under Gustave Flaubert who was a distant relative. Maupassant's writing showed a "lack of sentimentality toward his writers," as is shown in this story. We see very early that the clerk's wife is not happy with her life. Indeed she seems to hate her life:

"She suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the wretched look of the walls, from the worn-out chairs, from the ugliness of the curtains."

The clerk's wife was all about appearances. The author observes: "She had no dresses, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing but that; she felt made for that."

In a few paragraphs we know the clerk's wife well. She is unhappy with her lot. She is discontent. She feels she was born for better things. She desires to have the outward trappings of wealth: fine jewelry, dresses, and china.

This story makes me think how often we fret for what we do not have instead of rejoicing in what we do have. We are always thinking the grass is greener on the other side. We deal in appearances and not reality. We need to keep up with our neighbors. How much of our life is built on falsehood?

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