High school flashback? -"The Necklace"

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...she dreamed of expensive banquets with shining place settings, and wall hangings portraying ancient heroes and exotic birds in an enchanted forest. She imagined a gourmet-prepared main course carried on the most exquisite trays and served on the most beautiful dishes, with whispered gallantries that she would hear with a sphinxlike smile as she dined on the pink meat of a trout or the delicate wing of a quail.
--"The Necklace," para 4.

First of all, bare with me...I haven't written a blog in several months, so this one might be a little shaky and unorganized...

I first read this short story as a freshman in my Honors English 9 class at lovely Hempfield Area High School. Looking back, I can say with little doubt that I did not enjoy the literature very much--compared to some of the other stories we read that year, such as "The Cask of Amontillado," who could blame me for not being interested in a selfish young girl who pays the price of desiring too many shiny and expensive things?Anyway, now that I'm older--and hopefully wiser, I enjoyed this story a lot more. Maybe I just read into it more than I did in the past, or maybe it helped that I knew how the story would progress and eventually end. Either way, when I opened our textbook, Writing About Literature, in order to read "The Necklace," I tried to keep an open mind and read the story as though I'd never even heard of it before. For me, this was rather successful.

The passage above has nothing to do with plot or setting or any of that business--that's not why I chose it. I could have talked about the moral of this story, or about the setting or the plot, but instead, I chose this particular passage, because I absolutely loved the vivid sensory details included in this story. There are other sections in which the author, Guy de Maupassant, describes Mathlide's surroundings, but I felt that this one meant more, because it was actually something that even she wasn't actually able to see--only imagine. 

As a journalism major, I know the importance of details. At the same time, I also know the importance of managing details. News stories rarely include such vivid sensory details, so I always take full advantage of them when I run across them in the literature that I'm reading. When I read, I try to visualize the story in my mind, so for me, the more sensory details, the better.

On a whole, I would have to say that these details are what really make this short story as successful as it is. Just look at the comments the book leaves for us on the side of the page. Instead of saying, "She suffered because of her grim apartment with its drab walls, threadbare furniture, ugly curtains," imagine if the lines simply said, "She suffers because of her cheap belongings, wanting expensive things." I guess this is an excellent example of show vs. tell. These sensory details help readers to identify with Mathlide, even if we might still think that she is somewhat selfish and materialistic. Without them, the story would have not had the same effect on its readers, even though the moral of the story would still be visible.

2 Comments

Aja Hannah said:

The sensory details did make a lot of difference. Although I never sympathized with her (maybe the details helped others do this), I was able to visualize her life and desires better.

This sensory detail actually helped root me further on to the position that she was a brat and could only live with the best things. If she lived during this time, she would probably be in great debt.

While I read the last paragraph in your blog, I thought "Wow, that must be the show versus tell thing Dr. Jerz mentioned on Wednesday," and then you said it. I think the way Maupassant wrote that section of the story really helped the reader to identify with Mathilde, as you said. Instead of just reading what she was feeling, he wrote it in a way that we could feel it, too. Great observation!

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