The jeweler runs the shop from which Madame Lantin’s jewels were purchased. By chance, Monsieur Lantin enters this shop, intending to sell what he believes are cheap costume jewelry items. At first the jeweler suspects Monsieur Lantin of theft. When he figures out that the man is selling gems provided to his wife by other lovers, he can barely contain his amusement.
Madame Lantin is the second main character in ‘‘The Jewels.’’ The reader never sees anything from her point of view, and she is known to the reader only through her husband’s eyes. She remains a mystery until her secret affairs are revealed after her death—and even then the reader knows nothing substantive about her feelings or motives. She is more of a prop that moves the story forward than an actual character.
Madame Lantin is admired by many men and seems to be ‘‘the very epitome of the virtuous spouse to whom any sensible young man dreams of entrusting his life.’’ Only after her death does the reader wonder how many such ‘‘sensible’’ young men are completely fooled by the duplicity of their virtuous-seeming young wives. The reader is told, ‘‘Anyone who knew her kept repeating, ‘The man who lands her will be a lucky stiff.’’’ Only at the end of the story does the reader see how cruelly true this description is, as she was ‘‘landed’’ not only by Monsieur Lantin but by one or more very wealthy men. Furthermore, while she did bring luck—in the form of wealth—to Monsieur Lantin, it was at the expense of his happiness and dignity.
Monsieur Lantin views his wife as a sexy, seductive woman, and thinks her only flaw is her attraction to the theatre and to gaudy pieces of costume jewelry. Of course, her flaws run much deeper than this, and she ends up being a fraud on several fronts. She is repeatedly unfaithful to her husband. Her skill at running the household finances on her husband’s meager income also appears to be counterfeit. After her death, when Monsieur Lantin is unable to even eat enough on his own income, the reader wonders how Madame Lantin was able to keep him supplied with delicacies; these must also have been financed by her lovers.
The overall impression a reader has of this mysterious woman is one of capability and contentment. No information is offered on the depth of the unhappiness she must have experienced because of her husband’s unwillingness to accompany her to the theatre or his inability to buy her expensive jewels. The reader can only imagine the emotions that transformed Madame Lantin from a woman who was reluctant to attend the theatre with her female friends because of the impression of impropriety this might cause, to a woman who publicly displayed expensive presents from her rich lovers each time she went out. In short, Madame Lantin is a mystery from beginning to end. She serves only to illustrate the points about human nature and society that Maupassant seeks to make in this story.
Monsieur Lantin is the main character in ‘‘The Jewels.’’ He is the protagonist from whose viewpoint the story is told. Maupassant’s spare style offers little detail about Monsieur Lantin’s emotions and motivations, but what is offered represents virtually all the character development in the story.
Monsieur Lantin is a petty official, ‘‘chief clerk at the Ministry of the Interior,’’ a man who makes a modest income of 3,500 francs a year. He is an average man, a hard worker who is too tired after a day’s work to go to the theatre with his young, pretty wife, whose friends ‘‘always managed to get her a box at the latest hit.’’ He rejoices in his beautiful and seductive wife, who also has the talent to manage their household affairs so well that Monsieur Lantin feels he is living a life of luxury well beyond the means of his limited income.
Monsieur Lantin is heartbroken when his wife dies suddenly from pneumonia. He is described as crying without ceasing, ‘‘his soul ravaged by an intolerable agony.’’ His hair turns white and he ‘‘nearly followed her to the grave.’’ He falls into debt and finally decides to try to sell off his wife’s ‘‘tinsel’’ for the ‘‘seven or eight francs’’ he imagines it may bring, in order to tide him over to his next paycheck. He selects the large necklace that had been his wife’s favorite. When he discovers to his amazement that the necklace is not made of false gems but is real and worth eighteen thousand francs Monsieur Lantin falls into a new abyss of despair, shame, and confusion.
After realizing that his wife’s extensive jewelry collection is the result of a secret affair, Monsieur Lantin’s character changes. He becomes overwhelmingly jealous of people who have money, and envies their seemingly easy lives. This transformation is described in two short paragraphs. Seeing what he imagines are rich people ‘‘strolling with their hands in their pockets,’’ he thinks, ‘‘How lucky a man is if he’s rich! With money you can snap out of any grief. .. .’’ Monsieur Lantin is now revealed as a shallow person, or at least someone with few emotional or spiritual reserves to draw on. Beset by sorrow too difficult to deal with, he now seeks happiness only in money and unmeasured consumption of wine, food, and prostitutes.
Maupassant does not spell out the reasons why this change occurs. The reader must infer that it stems from Monsieur Lantin’s realization that he has been entirely fooled and that all the world is laughing at him, beginning with the jewelers who will pay him so handsomely for his wife’s jewels. He seems to feel no remorse or residual sadness as he sells all of the remaining pieces of jewelry and becomes a man made rich by his wife’s love affairs with other men.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Guy de Maupassant, Published by Gale Group, 2010