The concept of fake jewelry is an interesting one, as it constantly raises questions of merit. Why do people involve themselves within the dubious activity of wearing fake jewelry? Is it because they want to impress or fool their peers of their actual affluence and social standing? Or is it more of a psychological dilemma, as one is inclined to seek self satisfaction and contention within their attempts to deceive themselves of their own status in society? In Guy de Maupassant’s short story, False Gems, we are exposed to the moderate income couple of Monsieur and Madame Lantin. Monsieur Lantin is undoubtedly delighted with his wife, but has two complaints: her love for theatre, and her love for fake jewelry. After a chilly night at the opera, Madame Latin returns home sick, and dies eight days later with inflammation of the lungs. Monsieur Latin is left alone and poverty-stricken, with nothing more to cherish or mourn over, other than the phony jewelry which belonged to his wife. In his attempt to survive a desperate economic situation, Monsieur Latin makes an astounding discovery, which in essence, changes his circumstances. It should be apparent that the title, False Gems, represents more than fake jewelry, rather is could be seen as Monsieur Latin’s misconception of his class, as well as the deception invoked by his wife. With a low income, he despises theatre; however as his social status increases, he begins to love it. From misleading factors, and eventual changes in behavior, there comes this haunting realization that the theme of deception can have a stronger significance upon one’s persona and behavior than initially imagined, as is evidenced by the “fake jewelry.”The short story explores concepts in reference to creating and fostering a certain façade; a façade, which can have both disastrous and life altering consequences, especially when a power struggle between different classes are involved.
With a humble salary as a chief clerk in the Department of the Interior, there is often conflicting information as to how Monsieur Lantin and his wife can live with such affluence and high taste. Theatre, fine wine, and an assortment of various “fake jewelry,” an income as a clerk is generally not enough to cover such expenses. Coming from a respectable, money-oriented (her father was a tax collector), and honorable family, the wife is put in a position much different than her initial upbringing. In an effort to redeem her new, middle class status, she strives to fulfill her life with all the comforts and accessories reserved primarily for the upper class. She thus creates a façade, which in many ways fools her husband as well. However, how she is able to pursue these luxuries becomes a very ambiguous theme throughout the story. It is hinted that perhaps she was receiving presents from another man, a man more affluent and wealthier than Monsieur Lantin. This is evidenced when Lantin questions how his wife could obtain such expensive jewelry. -“But, then, it must have been a present? A present!- a present, from whom? Why was it given to her?
The wife’s interest in theatre is a fascinating one in that it explores two different concepts. The first prospect dwells upon the notion of the theatre’s importance and role in European culture. It was in essence, an activity of leisure and recreation pursued by primarily the upper and elite classes of society. The wife’s attendance at the theatre could stem from her continued desire and aspirations to be part of that specific high class culture. Yet more hauntingly, the theatre has been often times associated with duality, or in essence, re-creating oneself for the pleasure of entertaining an audience. In reference to the theatre, the poignant dramatist Antonin Artaud goes on to say that “We must believe in a sense of life renewed by the theatre, a sense of life in which man makes himself master of what does not yet exist, and brings it into being.” The theatre world represents the epitome of developing a different person, and fostering a new façade within a world much different than reality. The wife too exposes herself to the duality of the theatre, and in many ways, re-creates her image for both her husband, and her affluent and “well to do friends.”
As we see, the aura of deception is created simply after the first lines of the story. When Monsieur Lantin first marries his beloved, everyone throughout town is full of praise of the woman’s beauty and virtuousness, and there is constant talk of how “Happy the man who wins her love!” We are in many ways exposed to the glorified and wondrous qualities of Lantin’s spouse in the early stages of the story, and thus infer little doubt of the young woman’s character. But just like how fake jewelry can have an effect upon certain viewers, so too are we awed by the beauty of this woman, not of course realizing who she truly is. In fact, very little known is about the woman throughout the story, and our intuition is developed from the happiness and joy she brings within her respected spouse. This is sense of euphuism and awe are emotions, which can be drawn upon first glance by the unsuspecting and naÃ¯ve viewer, as is the case with Lantin and his opinion of his wife. The wife herself becomes an object similar to fake jewelry. Her deceptive beauty and inspiring demeanor mask the misleading and insincere motives she may be hiding away from her respective audience.
It’s only later when we realize that Monsieur Lantin’s wife may have been involved in some suspicious activity behind Lantin’s back. This of course is not explained fully, but rather is expressed through Lantin’s sense of doubt and tearful suffering after finding out about the actual authenticity of his wife’s jewelry. He questions himself, and then disturbingly falls to the floor in an unconscious state, signifying his shock of doubting the initial virtuousness of his late wife. This scene is significant in that it gives contrasting new information to the reader of the wife’s nature. She is no longer seen as virtuousness and truthful, but rather is portrayed as deceitful, venomous, and even sinful.
“He stopped, and remained standing in the middle of the street. A horrible doubt entered his mind- She? Then all the other jewels must have been presents too! The earth seemed to tremble beneath him-the tree before him to be falling; he threw up his arms, and fell to the ground, unconscious.”
When Monsieur Latin finds out that the jewels are in fact worth much more than he thought, he begins to change as a person himself. He quickly begins to sell all the jewelry, and even resigns from his job. He is rich, and starts to adorn things he once despised, such as theatre. With more money Monsieur Latin resigns from his job. He “[drinks] worth twenty francs a bottle,” and thereafter dines at the Café Anglais. From his increased wealth, it is obvious that Monsieur Latin enjoys a more sophisticated life. He considers himself apart of the elite, as his wife was once perceived to be. There is thus this change of behavior and taste, as he now is more inclined to imitate and emulate the social and cultural mannerisms of the upper, affluent class. The jewelry extinguishes his previous social status, and instead morphs him into a completely different individual. And yet we are left to question, whether or not he truly enjoys these activities, or that his participation is based primarily upon his new found social status. In relationship to Monsieur Lantin’s attempts to erase his past middle class background, the famed Italian priest and strong supporter of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government, Giuseppe De Luca, had this to say of individuals obsessed with Bourgeoisie culture:
“Middle Class, middle man, incapable of great vice: and there would be nothing wrong with that if only he would be willing to remain as such: but when his childlike feminist tendency to camouflage pushes him to dream of grandeur, honors, and thus riches, which he cannot achieve with his “second rate” powers, then the average man compensates with cunning, scheme, and mischief, he kicks out ethics and a becomes a bourgeoisie. The Bourgeoisie is the average man who does not accept to remain such, and who lacking the strength sufficient for the conquest of essential values, those of the spirit, opts for material ones, for appearance.”
Within the battle of class, deception becomes a key ingredient within our motives to fool others, as well as ourselves. But sometimes our aspirations for something “better” can dishevel our original appearance and destroy whatever identity we have initially created for ourselves, at the expense of perhaps hurting others. Guy de Maupassant’s story becomes a disturbing portrayal of the frivolous nature involved with aspiring to be part of an elitist and bourgeoisie culture, poking fun at the extremities some may venture towards in their pursuit for “something better.”
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