Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Final post: Aesthetic Realism Taught Me about What Interferes with Happiness

This is the conclusion of the paper I've been posting here, which discusses "The Necklace," by Guy de Maupassant, with its famous ironic ending, and what Aesthetic Realism taught me about the interference in oneself to real happiness

Maupassant describes in vivid prose the change that takes place in Mme. Loisel as she now, because of her own conceit, must live “the horrible existence of the needy.”

"She took her part...with heroism. That dreadful debt must be paid. She would pay it....She came to know what heavy housework meant and the odious cares of the kitchen. She washed the dishes, using her rosy nails on the greasy pots and pans. She washed the dirty linen...; she carried the slops down to the street every morning, and carried up the water, stopping for breath at every landing. And, dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, her basket on her arm, bargaining, insulted, defending her miserable money sou by sou.

"After 10 years, they paid off everything. And though Mme. Loisel now looked old, “with frowsy hair, skirts askew, and red hands,” we can see that her idea of what would make her important and happy has not essentially changed.
Sometimes,...she sat down near the window, and she thought of that gay evening of long ago, of that ball where she had been so beautiful and so feted.

"One day while taking a walk, she sees Mme. Forestier and decides to tell her the truth about the necklace. She greets her old friend, who doesn’t recognize her and is shocked to see how she’s changed.

'Yes, I have had days hard enough, since I have seen you, days wretched enough—and that because of you!'
'Of me! How so?'
'Do you remember that diamond necklace which you lent me to wear at the ministerial ball?'
'Yes. Well?'
'Well, I lost it.'
'What do you mean? You brought it back.'
'I brought you back another just like it. And for this we have been ten years paying. You can understand that it was not easy for us, us who had nothing. At last it is ended, and I am very glad.'"

Mme. Loisel’s pride here is of two kinds, representing two ideas of what will make her happy: one, the justice of being able to meet an obligation justly; and two, being able to be superior—here, by feeling she’d successfully fooled Mme. Forestier. But had she?

"Mme. Forestier had stopped.
'You say that you bought a necklace of diamonds to replace mine?'
'Yes. You never noticed it, then! They were very like.'
And she smiled with a joy which was proud and naive at once.
Mme. Forestier, strongly moved, took her two hands.
'Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste. It was worth at most five hundred francs!'"

The deep theme of this story, said Ms. Reiss, is: “If we go after substitutes for liking the world through being fair to it as we see it, are we asking for disaster for ourselves?”

The great news is: People can learn to have the happiness that comes from seeing the world truly and liking it. “In happiness,” said Mr. Siegel,
there is the wonderful and the ordinary. Every person has to feel that his feet are on the ground if he is to be happy; every person has to feel there is something wonderful about the ground and it isn’t just ground....Aesthetic Realism does think that happiness is the most wonderful thing in the world, and yet it is a study.

That study can enable women and men everywhere to have real, lasting happiness!