Monday, February 22, 2010

Why buy the real thing when an imitation is cheaper?

Human beings are obsessed with this idea of fame and wealth; we are a material world. Countless celebrities, authors, and even your common everyday average Joe has encountered the problem of desire. Many people simply want what they can not have. Even more dark is the desire to be admired. Many humans simply want, but there are those who need to feel wanted; need to be at the top and have that thing that everyone desires. Trendsetters, role models, celebrities.

The Short Story The Necklace by Marjorie Laurie is an illustration of this desire to want to be that role model and a lesson in how fake this desire really is.

Mathilde is first introduced as a "pretty and charming girl" whom destiny has mistakenly placed into poverty. Born into a family of clerks, she was then married to a clerk at the Ministry of Public Instructions. It is said that Mathilde was very unhappy with her life; as being a woman whose status is based on beauty, grace, and charm, rather than on status, she was left with no finer riches. She believed that she had been born deserving delicacies and luxuries and was instead cursed into the wrong life. This very feeling of desire pushed her to resent her husband.

"She thought of the silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra, and of the two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the heavy warmth of the hot-air stove. She thought of the long salons fitted up with ancient silk, of the delicate furniture carrying priceless curiosities, and of the coquettish perfumed boudoirs made for talks at five o'clock with intimate friends, with men famous and sought after, whom all women envy and whose attention they all desire."

The above paragraph is the image of the desires of Mathilda. She is seeking riches and a higher quality of life. Many of the ideas of wealth that she seems to hold are simply social; or of material possessions that provide the implication of greatness and wealth. She desires Oriental tapestries (most likely for their implied cost of import) and she desires large rooms, but with a silence of reverence. She desires this feeling of warmth that is provided in a rich comfortable enviroment. While many of these feelings are attainable in her life, it is the material wealth that makes the difference for her; and yet it is a sign of status, something she feels she must desire and that she was born for. She desires having chats with men that all women desire; it is as a social pressure requires her to follow her desires.

Mathilda's husband presents her with an opportunity to attend a public ball. Having the opportunity to attend a social event but feeling ill equipped, she is upset. Her husband gives her money to buy a dress and still she is upset because she has no jewels. She says "there's nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other women who are rich." This sentence draws upon one of the most important part of Mathilda's view; nothing more humiliating than to look poor. She is not upset about being poor, she is upset about being perceived as poor. This is one of the first indications of Mathilda's need and desire as a woman, and as a woman born for richer things, to simply be viewed as rich; to have that social status and presence. Attending the ball, Mathilda finds success. She is described as "prettier than them all," viewed by all the men, and even to have been addressed by the minister himself. All of these social honors lead to Mathilda's acceptance for that moment in time. Her moment of victory is described as such:

"She danced with intoxication, with passion, made drunk by pleasure, forgetting all, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of 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."

She danced with intoxication. Intoxication, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, has two different meanings. The first is "Stupefaction or excitement by the action of a chemical substance" and the second is "Poisoning by a drug or toxic substance." I think that it is important to remember that these two definitions go hand in hand. The chemical substance or drug that leads to stupefaction or excitement does so by poisoning the subject. This very feeling is something that is not real and that will pass. Mathilda is poisoned by the "homage" and all of the "admiration" which results in her euphoria and her feeling of completeness or "complete victory." This whole image is described to be "so sweet to a woman's heart." This implies that women need this feeling, this drug of social acceptance, to live. This certainly describes Mathilda.

But like any drug, it eventually wears off. Mathilda realizes that the necklace has gone missing and is frantic. For many years her and her husband must work to pay off the debt of a replacement for her friend. Mathilda is described to become a "woman of the people" and she must fight for her money. In the end, when Mathilda finally reveals to her friend that she had replaced her necklace, she discovers that the original necklace had been a fake. Once again, we are shown that not only was her desire for wealth simply one of appearance, but she could not determine real wealth from fake.

Is there a falseness in wealth? Even those with a lot of money seem to be more concerned about appearance. While the appearance is based on an idea of wealth, the appearance becomes even more important than the wealth itself. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said "A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."