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“The Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant, and “A&P” by John Updike were written in two different centuries by two authors of very different backgrounds. However, each story expresses very similar views about women. The women in these stories are self-centered creatures who control men with their sexuality, and end up damaging the men’s life.
The main character in “The Necklace” is a lady named Mathilde who is extremely pretty. She is not a very wealthy person, and is married to a clerk. Mathilde is very unhappy with her life, and wishes she could have more luxuries. The author says :
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station, since with women there is neither caste nor rank: and beauty, grace, and charm act instead of family and birth. Natural fitness, instinct for what is elegant, suppleness of wit are the sole hierarchy, and make from women of the people the equals of the very greatest ladies.
(Guy De Maupassant 160)
Mathilde is completely materialistic and ungrateful for her blessings.
Even though she has a servant, she feels like a poor person:
“She had no dresses, no jewels, nothing and she loved nothing but that; she felt made for that. She would have so have liked to be envied, to be charming, to be sought after.” (Guy De Maupassant 161) Mathilde will not even visit her old friend because her friend is rich, and Mathilde is jealous. Her husband is very content with his life and only wants her to be happy. However, when he gets them invited to a fancy ball, all she does is complain that she has nothing to wear. Her husband gives her the money that he has been saving for himself so that she can go buy a dress and she borrows a diamond necklace from her rich friend.
Mathilde has a wonderful time at the ball:
She danced with intoxication, with passion, made drunk by pleasures, forgetting all, in the triumph of her beauty. In the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud happiness composed of all this homage, of all this admiration, of all these awakened desires, and of that sense of complete victory which is so sweet to a woman’s heart. (Guy De Maupassant 163)
Her husband sleeps for four hours waiting for her to be ready to stop socializing. She is so ashamed of her coat that she rushes outside even though her husband wants to call a cab for her. She is very upset when the night is over, especially when she finds out that the borrowed necklace is missing.
Mathilde has no inner strength. Her poor husband goes out in the middle of the night to look for the necklace, but she is worthless: “She sat waiting on a chair in her ball dress without strength to got to bed, overwhelmed, without fire, without a thought.” (Guy De Maupassant 164) Ironically, when Mathilde and her husband replace the lost necklace, and must pay back the debt for ten years, Mathilde changes. She becomes brave and hard working, and the author says: “What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows? How life is strange and changeful! How little a thing is needed for us to be lost or to be saved.”
(Guy De Maupassant 166)
John Updike’s story, “A&P” was written almost 80 years after Guy De Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” but it expresses a similar viewpoint about
the shallowness of women. Like the husband in “The Necklace,” the speaker in
this story, a nineteen – year old store clerk, is under the spell of women even though he has a negative view of them, especially older women. He refers to one 50 year-old customer as “a witch” and says, “If she’d been born at the right time, they would have burned her over in Salem.” (Updike 12) He also refers negatively to “women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs” (Updike 14)
The young girls seem to be just sexual objects to him. He notices everything about their bodies, but he does not seem to have too much admiration for them otherwise. He says, “You never no for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there, or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?)” (Updike 13)
When the clerk Sammy waits on the girls in the bathing suits, one of them pays him money taken out of her bathing suit top:
Now her hands are empty, not a ring or a bracelet, bare as God made them, and I wonder where the money’s coming from. Still, with that prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center
of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand. Really, I though that was so cute. (Updike 15)
When the manager embarrasses the girls, by telling them not to come in the store again in bathing suits because that is the store policy, Sammy says, “Policy is what the kingpins want, what the others want is juvenile delinquency.” (Updike 15) Sammy then quits his job because the manager embarrasses the girls. Even though he has compassion for the girls’ embarrassment, his feelings for the girls still seem to be based mostly on valuing their bodies: “You’ll feel this for the rest of your life,” Lengel says, and I know that’s true too, but remembering how he made that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside. I punch the no sale tab…” (Updike 16) When Sammy leaves, the girls in the bathing suits are nowhere to be found. Even though he quit his job, and let his parents down, he expresses his
negative view of older women, once more when he says, “There wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some
candy they didn’t get by the door of a powder blue falcon station wagon.” (Updike 16)
The writers of these two stories paint a dismal picture of what women are like. When they are young and beautiful, they are sexually attractive, but they are not particularly intelligent or deep. However, the men in these stories go to extreme limits, because of their attraction to the women. In the end, the men in these short stories are the fools because they are slaves to their desires, which is what Sammy realizes he is going to be doing the rest of his life, and what Mathilde’s husband did for ten years after she lost the necklace.
Kennedy, Gioia, ed. Literature New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000
Guy De Maupassant “The Necklace” Kennedy, Gioia 160-166
John Updike “A&P” Kennedy, Gioia 12-16
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