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Irony in Guy de Maupassant’s “The Jewelry”” Essay

“Expect the unexpected,” is something that I heard many times. We should follow this rule while reading different genres of writing, because writers use irony to keep readers’ attention, and make their works more interesting. This research paper deals with one of Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Jewelry” and with his virtuous ability to use irony in it. It is sometimes said that we live in an age of irony. Because nowadays even politicians in their speeches use ironical device, in order to catch attention of society. Barry Brummet (expert in Techniques of Close Reading) in one of his speech mentioned that “Irony is a kind of winking at each other, as we all understand the game of meaning reversal that is being played.”

The story was first published in Maupassant’s short-story collection “Contes du jour et de la nuit” in 1885. Since that time people have been reading it, and it won popularity among them. So it has a lot of interesting opinions and analysis which were made by famous critics and writers like Leo Tolstoy. Maupassant is considered one of the finest short story writers of all time and a champion of the realist approach to writing.

“The Jewelry” is interesting to read because it contains irony. Irony has always been fascinating object to study, and it is widely known and popular to use in modern time as in literature so in speech. It is splendid story; despite of being short it has deep sense and contains interesting topics to discuss. In “The Jewelry” reader can see what ironical games life can play with us and to what conclusion it can lead us.

Chapter I

The Greek etymology of the word irony, είρωνεία (eironeia), means feigned ignorance (a technique often used by the Greek philosopher Socrates), and from είρων (eiron), the one who makes a question pretending to be naive, and είρειν is also a verb radical of the Greek “to speak”. The verb είρειν (eirein) itself is probably from the Proto-Indo-European root *wer- say. Irony is a stylistic device in which the contextual evaluative meaning of a word is directly opposite to its dictionary meaning. There are very many cases which we regard as irony, intuitively feeling the alteration of the evaluation, but unable to put our finger on the exact word in whose meaning we can see the contradiction between what is said and what is implied. The effect of irony in such cases is created by a number of statements, by the whole text. Many examples of irony are supplied by D. Defoe, J. Swift and many others.

Types of irony

There are 3 main types of irony:
1. Verbal Irony: This occurs when a character says one thing but suggests or intends the opposite. For instance in Julius Caesar, Mark Antony says “and Brutus is an honorable man,” when he really means that Brutus is dishonorable because he has betrayed Caesar. It is very similar to sarcasm, although sarcasm is rough and direct while verbal irony is implied.

2. Dramatic Irony: This is the contrast between what the character thinks to be true and what the readers know to be true. Dramatic irony occurs when the meaning intended by a character’s words or actions is opposite of the true situation. Further, the character cannot see or understand the contrast, but the audience can. For example, in Othello, dramatic irony occurs when Othello refers to Iago as “honest Iago.” Unknown to Othello, Iago is a villain who deceives him into thinking that his wife has been unfaithful. For this, Othello unjustly kills his wife, believing the whole time in Iago’s honesty. Note the difference in examples for verbal and dramatic irony: Antony calls Brutus “honorable” and knows he is not honorable, while Othello calls Iago “honest” and does not know of Iago’s deception.

3. Situational Irony: It is the contrast between what happens and what was expected or what would seem to be more appropriate to happen. This type of irony appears from the events and circumstances of a story. When we see situational irony, we might think circumstances are unfair or unfortunate – for example, if a greedy millionaire buys a lottery ticket and wins additional millions.

Irony in literature

Here I wanted to list several examples from literature, by means of which, we could understand what irony is more clearly. Firs examples are from “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare. I have chosen them, because this story is widely known across the globe. “Two households, both alike in dignity…”

The opening line of Shakespeare’s play leads the reader to believe that both Capulet and Montague families are worthy of respect that they are given in Verona. As the story progresses, we realize that neither household is dignified. In fact, several of their actions are unworthy of their place in society. Another irony in Romeo and Juliet is that the reader remains aware of the fact that Juliet takes a sleeping portion to simulate death, and at the end of the day, when Romeo kills himself after thinking that Juliet is dead, the reader is astonished by the tragic irony. Next examples come from short stories, which I was supposed to read on my first years in university.

The Casque of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe:

In this story, the reader is conscious from the very beginning that Montressor is planning the murder of Fortunato, but Fortunato remains unaware of this and he considers Montressor his friend. It is very ironic how foolish people could be. Fortunato forgot about his past relationship with Montressor, and it led him to fatality.

The Necklace, Guy de Maupassant:

The protagonist Madame Loise, in order to look good, borrows jewelry from a prosperous friend and then loses it. With her husband she replaces the jewels but the replacement effects on their financial conditions. Years later, when she meets the same friend again, she learns that the jewels she replaced with real gemstones was mere imitation jewelry.

Conclusion to the Chapter I

Generally, Irony is the difference between what someone does or says in relation to what is understood about what is done or said. Often there is a bit of confusion over what is ironic and what is simply accidental. The two ideas can be easily confused, but there is however, a very distinct difference between what is ironic and what is simply good or bad luck. Irony has several different types and it appears not only in literature, but in ordinary life also. It is a contradiction between appearance and reality. Irony is a widely known method of explaining something, and is popular to use as in writing and in everyday life so in media. It points on how many different people don’t pay attention to what is happening around them, and how many ironic games our fate can play with us. It is not only when we don’t mention, but it can happen every day and any time with anyone.

Chapter II. “The Jewelry” by Guy de Maupassant

Plot summary
The story of “The Jewelry” takes place in Paris. It tells us about Monsieur Lantin, who worked as a chief clerk at the office of Minister of Interior. Story begins with M. Lantin’s falling in love with young virtuous girl(whose name will never be told) and their marriage. The story tells how they happily lived together during several years of their marriage. We can see that Lantins’ wife enjoys going to theatres and loves fake jewelry. She was the best housewife man can ever imagine, and she provided her home with everything. One cold winter evening she came back home from opera freezing and coughing, and after 8 days she died because of inflammation of the lungs. Mr. Lantin loved her very much, so he saved things staying as they were while she was alive. His life completely changed, he couldn’t rule his accounts and soon got into depts. One day he decided to cell one of his wife’s fake jewelries in order to have some money for food.

When he went to the jeweler he learned that his wife’s jewelry wasn’t fake. Mr. Lantin was shocked, while she was alive, they didn’t have so much money to buy such kind of expensive jewelries, so, she had deceived him with somebody. After learning that all of her “fake” jewelries were not fake, he decide to sell them, after that he decides that he is reach enough and quits his job. He was very happy and pleased with it, so he visits expensive restaurants, orders expensive meals, and boasts to everybody that he is rich, but, he is telling different amounts of money to everybody. After that he marries another girl. They didn’t live happy and loving life together as with the first wife. ii.ii Analysis of the story

This story takes place in Paris, which is in France. As it is the general place of setting, there are also specific ones. For instance, in the beginning M. Lantin meets his future wife at a reception at the house of the second head of his department. After we see places like their house, theater, jeweler shops and so on. However, setting doesn’t play major role in “The Jewelry”, so author doesn’t pay much attention on displaying it.

Two main characters of “The Jewelry” are Monsieur Lantin and his first wife. These two characters are very important for this story, because all of actions in it are connected with them. M. Lantin is a middle class man, who desperately loves his wife, and thinks that she loves him too, because they had very warm relations. Think like unfaithfulness of his wife wouldn’t even come to his mind, and when he learns this fact, he understands that everything is not as it seems to be. In my opinion Lantin is boastful person, and he likes to exaggerate. Maybe because of this characteristic feature, he looked to his family life as if it was ideal. His wife, whose name remains unknown to reader, is professional liar, who is arrogant and narcissistic, even though we don’t see it with unaided eye. I came to this conclusion because in the story it is said that “Happy the man who wins her love! He could not find a better wife.” Everybody thought that she was a perfect woman, who was able to make happy her man.

In fact she could, but, because of hearing these words she became proud of herself, and inside she came to conclusion that she might deserve better man or better life. We don’t know what type of man she was dating with, but it is obvious that she could hide her feelings easily, so, she had two faces. One was how she was acting during staying at home with her husband, and the second is outside of it. While she was near her husband, she was the most caring wife, tender and kid. She was also very smart, because she ruled household perfectly, but, with the help of her lover’s finances. I can say that her place was on the stage of the theater, because wife of M. Lantin was a perfect actress! The theme of “The Jewelry” by Guy de Maupassant is that life can be full of irony. Each of the ironies shown in “The Jewelry” reveal how people keep secrets from one another or themselves, and reveals how they ignore a situation that upsets them if they are compensated enough. That compensation in this story is money.

In this story, Guy de Maupassant as a main literary form of writing uses ironical style. “The Jewelry” is full of irony from the beginning. It awaked several feeling in me. First, I felt happy, that M. Lantin got married and was living pretty good life, but, I wondered why didn’t he also took a part in house holding or even look in what sphere and what amount of money was spent by his wife. I wasn’t surprised when it turned out that Lantins’ wife had a lover, because he wasn’t paying much attention on her, go out and have fun. It is possible that because of these reasons she was tired of that routine and wanted to try something new. Her lover may have paid more attention to het or shown his love more clearly. ii.iii Irony in “The Jewelry”

The plot of “The Jewelry” moved from one irony to another. The first couple of paragraphs show how respectable M. Lantin’s wife was supposed to be. But even this early in the story, the author states that “The young girl seemed to be the very ideal of that pure good woman to whom every young man dreams of entrusting his future.” That “…seemed to be…” lets the reader know that the young girl was not chased woman as everybody took her for. This indicates that the girl was hiding something, although what that something was we didn’t find out until she died. The second irony which we come across in this story, is the fact that they “…seemed to live in luxury”, but in fact they didn’t just simply seem they really did. Unknown to M. Lantin, his wages were being supplemented by his wife’s lovers. They were paying for his good food, fine wine and luxuriously furnished house. I suppose if he had opened his eyes, and looked through the household expenditures, he would have learned that the money was coming from somewhere other than his salary.

At that point M. Lantin was being fooled by his own self as well as by his wife. But anyway, during that time he was happy! After that comes our third irony. If M. Lantin hadn’t stopped going to the theatre with his wife, then probably another man wouldn’t have had an opportunity to flirt with her, and become her lover. Her attention would have been on her husband or on the stage, not on another man. In every other way, other than the theatre and her jewelry, M. Lantin’s wife devoted herself to him. We can understand it in lines “It would be impossible to conceive of any attention, tenderness, playful caress which she did not lavish upon her husband…” I think she loved her husband. And then of course, there is irony of the jewelry itself: the fact that the jewelry was real, while she had been acting like it was imitation of it. Even so far as to let the light catch the crystal, and say, “Now, look at them – see how well the work was done. You would swear it was real jewelry.”, when he would revile her for wearing the fake jewelry instead of being “adorned with one’s natural beauty and grace.”

At that time she might have been mocking at her husband, thinking how stupid he was. After her death, M. Lantin found out that his wife’s entire jewelry was real. The jewelry that the wife’s lovers gave her paid for their luxurious life. After he realized he could get rich by selling all “fake” jewelry, M. Lantin forgot all about his wife’s affairs, and deceived himself that everything will be okay as long as he became rich. Six months after his wife’s death, he married again to a good virtuous woman which made his life miserable.

Conclusion to Chapter II

In conclusion, the story emphasized that looks can be deceiving and that sometimes we are blind to what really is going on. We can question if being happy by dishonest values is worth the financial gains or if the unhappiness from honest values is worth the pain. As we see “The Jewelry” is a little complicated story, and everybody has its own point of view on it. As it is ironical story, and there are people who may not understand it. In fact, I even feel sorry for M. Lantin, because even after his wife’s death, he deceives himself as if he were happy. Nowadays many people may face this problem, and no one is insured from this.


During writing of this research paper, I learned more about irony, its types and its usage in language. There are very many cases, though, which we regard as irony, intuitively feeling the reversal of the evaluation, but unable to put our finger on the exact word in whose meaning we can trace the contradiction between the said and the implied. The effect of irony in such cases is created by a number of statements, by the whole of the text. Ironies are easy to find in our daily activities; whether in statement, situation, or unexpected event. The simplest irony of our lives is that we feel happier having fun and not worrying about what we are doing or who we are doing it with. At that time ironical situations might occur. Guy de Maupassant was a great French short-story writer. He became famous around the world by the help of his great works. In other words, we can call him “father of modern short-story writers”.

As I read responses of people about his works, they admired him, because his stories contain the face of our everyday life and problems. He points to our negligent treatment for our lives. Maupassant’s stories was popular nowadays is they were in 19th century. The story, which is discussed in this research paper, “The Jewelry”, points out how unaware we can be of things that happen around us. So we can call it realistic story. I think it would be suitable to finish my research paper by this quote: “The simplest of women are wonderful liars who can extricate themselves from the most difficult dilemmas with a skill bordering on genius” Guy de Maupassant

1.Edgar Allan Poe, “The Casque of Amontillado”, The Norton Introduction to Literature 8th edition 2.Guy de Maupassant, “Original short stories”, translated by Albert M. C. McMASTER and others, Plymouth edition, South Australia 5005 3.Guy De Maupassant, “The Jewelry.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 9th edition 4.Short Story Criticism, Gale Cengage, 2004

5.William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow, 1951 6.William Shakespeare, “The tragedy of Othello”, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow 1963 7.http://article.ranez.ru


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