This is a lesson I did for a student preparing for the Edexcel IGCSE English Language Exam. We figured out the possible likely questions, then sat down and wrote up a few model answers.
Possible Likely Questions:
1. How does the writer create the character of Madame Loisel?
2. How does the writer present the relationship between Madame Loisel and either, her husband or her friend?
3. How does the writer create mood and atmosphere in [any given section]?
4. How does the writer make the opening of the story so dramatically effective?
5. How does Maupassant make the ending of the story so dramatically effective?
6. Explore the symbolism of the necklace.
7. How does Maupassant build tension?
Get more on the Edexcel IGCSE English Anthology here
How does Maupassant make the ending of the story so dramatically effective?
This is a horrible question, so I did it first. The temptation is to focus only on the last few lines, but you need to comment on the story as a whole as well.
The end of the story is a real-time confrontation between Madame Loisel and the 'one rich friend' she has envied through the story. Mme Loisel's 'ill-fortune' is to be merely comfortable and not rich - like Mme Forestier, who functions almost as doppelganger: possessing everything Mathilde feels she is entitled to. Bitter envy results, producing 'unendurable' 'degrading' 'torment'. Maupassant speculates on alternative realities later, saying 'What would have happened...?' and in Mme Forestier, we see the torment of envy - alternative possibilities and being so near, but so far. Dreadful suffering ensues, emphasised by the listing of Mme Loisel's mental pain as she would: 'cry and cry, shedding tears of misery, regret, despair, and anguish.' The asyndeton in this list makes it feel endless, emphasised by the repetition of 'cry'.
As we can see from the reversal at the end of the story, though, Mme Loisel's sufferings are mental, not real. The 'squalid wallpapers', 'hideous upholstery' hide an underlying ease. The truly poor would not have such things. Words like 'squalid' and 'hideous' are emotive value judgements produced by Mme Loisel's distorted world-view, and hide the reality. The difference between surface, value-judgements and flawed judgements are drawn out by the symbolism of the necklace - and the idea 'all that glitters is not gold'. In retrospect, we can see, Mme Loisel's problem was not her imagined poverty, but her thwarted ambition. It was her desire that was the disease. When she experiences truly 'miserable poverty', she reacts 'heroically'. Her idle daydreams are replaced by grinding reality and by action, not passive sobs of despair. Her character is transformed. At the start of the story, looking at the 'girl who does the humble domestic chores' fills her with 'hopeless longings'. Now, she does these chores herself, and as, 'she undertook all the heavy work', she gains a dignity that she did not have before. For the first time, she is 'simple and proud'. She has learned her lesson, though the greatest lesson is reserved for the final lines in her conversation with Mme Forestier, 'still young, still beautiful', a parody of what Mme Loisel still should be - though comfortable, not rich.
The pathos of her friend not recognising her is huge, and seals the transformation from comfortable to 'a low class creature'. The fact her friend 'uttered a cry' almost suggests she is monstrous. Both images suggest she has lost some of her humanity, through ironically, she has gained in dignity from a vacant envious woman, to one who is rightly 'proud' of her hard work, though none of this is outwardly visible.
The symbolism of the necklace is revealed at the end. Mme Loisel has degraded herself, worked and toiled to replace something that was merely an 'imitation'. It was beautiful - like Mme Loisel, but not expensive. Maupassant shows that beauty is beauty, whatever its worth. And it's not worth ruining your life to lust after expensive luxuries that are no more delightful than the ten franc 'posy' her husband wanted her to buy in the first place. The pathos of Mme Forestier at the end is touching 'Oh you poor, poor thing.' Mme Loisel is an object of sympathy now we see where her 'hopeless dreams' have brought her. The name of her former home on the 'Rue des Martyrs' links to the final theme. This woman is a martyr: to envy, to living in imagination, not in reality - she is deceived by the 'imitation', and her pride of wanting to keep up appearances in front of her rich friend.
How does Maupassant present (show or portray) Mme Loisel in the Necklace?
Thanks to Sofia for this lovely essay!