I wonder if the authors of the classics every sat down and said, “Today I will write a story that will survive throughout the ages to taunt and torment students in perpetuity.
I have been substitute teaching for a long time. I love to see how other teachers create a learning environment. (I find that I can learn something from it or at the least I enjoy it as camp, or kitsch or as cautionary example) I also take a look at the books in the room, including the textbooks.
A story that has plagued me on a number of levels is still featured in the curriculum.
This story is Guy De Maupassant The Necklace.
For those of you have managed to escape this story here’s a quick rundown:
Mathilde Loisel is a good looking woman who is married to a good man who can support her, but is not wealthy. She is not happy with her lot in life and moans and groans a lot. Husband gets an invitation to a society party but inside of being happy at the prospect of night out, she is upset because she doesn’t have the clothes. The husband scrapes up some money for a new dress, but then she is unhappy that she doesn’t have any jewelry. After a lot of whining, she borrows a diamond necklace from her one wealthy friend.
The Loisel’s go to the party where Mathilde has a great time but the husband is bored. Mathilde is reluctant to leave and insists they walk away from the party so no one will see how shabby her wrap is. When they arrive home, she discovers that the necklace is missing. Since she has no idea when or where she has lost it, they must, of course replace it. Mathilde doesn’t tell her friend she has lost the necklace, instead the Loisel’s borrow the absurd amount of money it will take to replace the necklace. They live in abject poverty for the rest of their lives
After several years Mathilde sees her friend, who doesn’t recognize her. When she explains why she looks so terrible, the friend reveals that the original necklace was costume jewelry and not worth anything at all.
I understand that you can milk a lot of themes and symbolism out of this story and that is probably why it is still around. There are many, many things about this story that make me want to rant and rave (I know, Quelle Surprise!) but there are also other stories that could serve the same purpose.
The reason I am thinking about this story at all is one of the prompts on the sample test for the English/Language Arts certification test is
Write an expository essay discussing effective teaching strategies for developing literature appreciation with a heterogeneous class of ninth- graders. Select any appropriate piece(s) of world literature to use as examples in the discussion.
The first time I read this, after my inner child stopped screaming, was ask myself if I could name any specific piece of world literature. Well, of course I can, but not well enough to manipulate into fun shapes for others to enjoy. Since I’m not the kind of teacher who will settle for glossing over the highlights in order to plan a lesson, I decided that I would find some world literature to read in my spare (!) time. So I looked for short stories (on audio book, because really, how much time do I really have anyway?)
When I did a search on world literature, guess what story came up?
Since I do not want to expand the reach of The Necklace, I decided to check out De Maupassant’s The Hand. It was interesting and marginally creepy.
I came up with new essay prompt that may actually have practical applications.
Write an essay comparing and contrasting De Maupassant’s The Hand and WW Jacobs The Monkey’s Paw use this as the lesson plan referred to an expository essay discussing how to teach the stories while simultaneously predicting what student is likely to have a violent outburst. Include your reaction and solution to said outburst taking into consideration the location of the school.
They never ask you the important stuff.