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Simulated reality is a common theme in science fiction. It is predated by the concept "life is a dream". It should not be confused with the theme of virtual reality.
|Accelerando||Charles Stross||2005||A collection of related short stories, assembled as a novel, chronicling the life of a man and his daughter both pre and post-singularity.|
|The Algebraist||Iain M. Banks||2004||Posits a religion according to which 'The Truth' is that our universe is virtual.|
|Amnesia Moon||Jonathan Lethem||1995||On a road trip, two characters set out from a post-apocalypseWyoming town and encounter a succession of alternate realities, including one shrouded in opaque green fog, another luck-based political system, and it is suggested that these divergent alternate realities emerged to obstruct an alien invasion of Earth. Homage to Philip K. Dick.|
|Ant Farm: God and His Computer Simulation||CJ Choi||2017||A coming of age story introducing God as a teenage programmer, who creates Earth within a pre-made Universe simulation and unsuccessfully attempts to guide its progress from genesis and beyond.|
|Breakfast of Champions||Kurt Vonnegut Jr.||1973||Kilgore Trout, an amateur science fiction writer, writes a story that mocks individualism by suggesting that there is only one human man and one God, and the rest of humanity are robots, made to test the man's reactions; hence, a kind of simulated reality.|
|Chronic City||Jonathan Lethem||2009||Several strands relating to virtual reality games and virtual objects, but then events in the "real world" lead the reader to conclude that the "real world" is a simulated reality which is accreting errors and anomalies.|
|"The Cookie Monster"||Vernor Vinge||2004||The characters come to doubt their own reality. This story was reprinted in several anthology collections, won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Novella and was nominated for the 2005 Nebula Award for Best Novella. One reviewer rated the story "A+" and praised "the central mysteries which Vinge so very skillfully unwraps for you over the course of the story itself."|
|The Cosmic Puppets||Philip K. Dick||1957||A man goes to visit the town in which he spent his early childhood, only to find that he does not recognize anything or anyone. Even basic things such as street names are different. Eventually he discovers that the town and all of the people in it are being subjected to an illusion created by the fight between two cosmic beings.|
|Count Zero||William Gibson||1986||The first sequel of Gibson's Neuromancer, the novel continues themes around cyberspace and introduces a computerized device called an Aleph which contains an advanced version of cyberspace that appears as a simulated reality to those that "jack" into it, as well as to digital entities that reside within it.|
|Darwinia||Robert Charles Wilson||1998||By the end of the story it is revealed that whatever happens in the story is really beyond the End of Time and that the Universe, the Earth and all of the consciousness that ever existed are really being preserved in a computer-like simulation known as the Archive.|
|Dead Romance||Lawrence Miles||1999/2004||Part of the Virgin New Adventures series of Doctor Who spin-off fiction, but mostly disconnected from the rest of the series. The novel is set on a version of 1970s Earth within a "bottle universe," invaded by powerful beings from the greater universe beyond. It is suggested that these beings are fleeing their own invaders and that their universe is merely a bottle within a yet greater cosmos.|
|Diaspora||Greg Egan||1997||A novel set in 2975 CE in which humanity has divided into distinct groups, one of which are the citizens. The citizens are intelligences that exist as disembodied computer software running entirely within simulated reality-based communities.|
|A Dream of Wessex||Christopher Priest||1977||Released in the United States under the title The Perfect Lover. A team of specialists undergoes a sort of computer-monitored group hypnosis to create an alternate England, hoping to improve their dystopian world, but their utopia is endangered by one member with foul emotions and megalomaniacal ideas.|
|The Dueling Machine||Ben Bova||1969||Dueling as a means of settling disputes has been revived by the invention of the dueling machine, which allows two adversaries to have at each other in the imaginary world of their choosing, with no danger to either other than humiliation and the loss of the point in dispute—until the Kerak Worlds found a way to kill with the machine.|
|"The Electric Ant"||Philip K. Dick||1969||A man awakes from a vehicular crash, and is transferred to a special treatment facility after being informed that he is a biological robot. He finds that his subjective reality is controlled by a punch tape reel in his chest panel, which he begins to manipulate in an effort to control the world that he experiences.|
|Electric Forest||Tanith Lee||1979||A woman who is so ugly that she is an outcast on her colony planet of genetically engineered perfection agrees to put herself in a container from which she will have full control of and the illusion of independence in the cloned body of a beautiful, wealthy, and intelligent woman.|
|Epic||Conor Kostick||2004||The inhabitants of a whole world play in a virtual world for their real income and status.|
|Eternity||Greg Bear||1988||In particular, his introduction of the Taylor algorithms as a means of determining the simulated nature of an artificial environment.|
|Eye in the Sky||Philip K. Dick||1957||After a nuclear accident, seven victims successively pass a range of solipsist personalised alternate universes, including a geocentric, magic-based universe and a hardline marxist caricature of the contemporary United States. Tom Shippey wrote that it might be "a private fantasy world, watched over by a Vast Active Living Intelligence System."|
|Feersum Endjinn||Iain M. Banks||1994||Describes a version of Earth with very extensive virtual reality capabilities.|
|Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said||Philip K. Dick||1974||A famous, wealthy entertainer wakes up one morning in a cheap hotel, only to discover that no one knows who he is and that there is not even a record of his existence.|
|Forever Free||Joe Haldeman||1999|
|Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality||Philip Zhai||1998||A philosophical speculation on the ontological status of the extreme form of virtual reality that combines with teleoperation, in comparison with what we perceive as the "actual" or "physical" reality. An array of thought experiments is constructed for the purpose of philosophical investigations.|
|The Girl Who Was Plugged In||James Tiptree Jr.||1974|
|The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy||Douglas Adams||1979–2009||Earth was designed by an alien supercomputer called Deep Thought to find the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything (the Ultimate Answer already established as 42), using organic life as part of its operational matrix. However, early on in the first book Earth was destroyed just before the critical moment of read-out, leading to the events of the rest of the series. Later, part of the action takes place in a synthetic universe.|
|Idlewild||Nick Sagan||2003||This novel contains a simulated school inside a simulated world.|
|Illusions||Richard Bach||1977||A pilot on the Midwest summer barnstorming circuit meets a messiah who shows him that the world is merely "like a movie" designed by "the Master" to entertain and enlighten humanity.|
|"The Immortals"||David Duncan||1960||Two scientists use a computer to predict the consequences on society of a new drug that one of them invented.|
|The Joy Makers||James Edwin Gunn||1961||A new philosophy known as "Hedonism", which makes joy the greatest human need, ultimately results in an advanced A.I. projecting each person's ultimate fantasy directly into their brains while their comatose bodies are cared for inside of locked "wombs".|
|Killobyte||Piers Anthony||1993||Killobyte is a "second generation" virtual reality game that puts players into a three-dimensional, fully sensory environment.|
|The Man in the High Castle||Philip K. Dick||1962||Initially, it appears that Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire won the Second World War in an alternate, occupied United States. However, the I Ching divination tool discloses this as an apparent illusion.|
|A Maze of Death||Philip K. Dick||1970||A group of people from different ways of life are assigned to colonize a planet using a vehicle that is one-way, making them unable to leave. Many confusing events take place. Eventually everyone wakes up and discovers that it was a virtual reality program. The passengers of a broken spaceship are in an orbit of an alien gas giant and they are doomed to remain until they die. To keep away boredom and despair they create virtual reality programs in which they are living real lives. The book ends with the restart of the previous program.|
|The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect||Roger Williams||1994|
|The Mirage||Matt Ruff||2012||A world where the Middle East is the centre of capitalism and democracy and the United States is home to sectarian and terrorist violence. Most of the history of the world is told throughout the book through excerpts from a website called The Library of Alexandria, the world's version of Wikipedia. It is eventually revealed that the timeline is an illusion created by a Djinn.|
|Mona Lisa Overdrive||William Gibson||1988||The second sequel to Gibson's Neuromancer, featuring further exploration of the influence of cyberspace in the future.|
|Moongazer||Marianne Mancusi||2007||A post-apocalyptic underground society pacifies its citizens by plugging them into a simulated version of New York City before the war, meanwhile telling the people that they are actually traveling to an alternate reality where they can escape their constricted lives.|
|Neuromancer||William Gibson||1984||In this future, cyberspace has taken on the attributes of virtual reality.|
|Old Twentieth||Joe Haldeman||2005||A group of immortal humans sets off on a thousand-year voyage to explore an Earth-type planet. To amuse themselves, they use virtual reality to take trips to the twentieth century; but when the trips start to go wrong, a virtual reality engineer discovers that the simulated world is ruled by a self-aware computer...who may be running a more complex simulation than they can ever imagine.|
|Omnitopia Dawn||Diane Duane||2010||Features a MMOG called Omnitopia that contains multiple player-built worlds that can compete for popularity, earning real-world money.|
|The Penultimate Truth||Philip K. Dick||1964||A group of people living in underground tanks during a nuclear war decide that they have to brave the irradiated, dangerous surface in order to get an artificial organ for an irreplaceable member of their community, only to discover that everything that they have been led to believe is a lie.|
|Permutation City||Greg Egan||1994|
|Phase Space||Stephen Baxter||2003||Includes several short stories pertaining to simulated realities, particularly in reference to their solving of the Fermi paradox. Most notably the framing story "Touching Centauri," but also "Poyekhali 3201," "Glass Earth, Inc." "Tracks" and "The Barrier," which explores the zoo hypothesis.|
|"Princess Ineffabelle"||Stanisław Lem||1965||A story-dream "The Wedding Night of Princess Ineffabelle" from the story-in-a-story "The tale of Zipperupus, king of the Partheginians, the Deutons, and the Profligoths" from the short story "The Tale of the Three Story Telling Machines" from The Cyberiad.|
|"Professor Corcoran" (alternatively: "Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy I")||Stanisław Lem||1961||A short story about a professor, who created a set of AIs inside boxes. Each of the AIs inside each box lives inside an ilusionary world, all their feelings and future being dictated by the professor. The professor bitterly comments that he often dreams that he is also inside a box in someone else's lab. Published in Star Diaries ("Memoirs of a space traveler: further reminiscences of Ijon Tichy").|
|The Reality Bug||D. J. MacHale||2003||Is set on a world destroyed by simulated reality.|
|Reality Crash||Lou Grantt, Cyd Ropp||2008||A programmer in a post-apocalyptic future in England is used to living his life across a variety of virtual reality channels, but thinks his real life is not that bad. One day he hits his head at work and starts seeing a version of reality where everyone is dirty and underfed, where the restaurants serve goo and where even a baptism is not what it first appears to be.|
|Realtime Interrupt||James P. Hogan||1995||Is set in the near future, a cyber reality with its creator trapped inside.|
|REAMDE||Neal Stephenson||2011||Though not set within a simulated reality, the novel stars the creator of a hugely popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game and discusses many of the behind-the-scenes operations in its creation and success.|
|The Remnants series||K. A. Applegate||2001||Set on a ship that creates virtual landscapes|
|The Restoration Game||Ken MacLeod||2010||A mysterious anomaly leads to the revelation that the characters are living in a simulated world, which is in turn embedded within another simulated world.|
|"The Seventh Sally"||Stanisław Lem||1965||"The Seventh Sally or How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good", from The Cyberiad|
|Simulacron-3||Daniel F. Galouye||1964||Also published as Counterfeit World. Adapted as a TV miniseries World on a Wire (1973) and as the film The Thirteenth Floor (1999).|
|Snow Crash||Neal Stephenson||1992||Romanticizing the perilous world of some young hackers, the novel discusses the history and nature of language and virtual reality, among many other topics.|
|The Song of Synth||Seb Doubinsky||2015||Markus, a former hacker on restricted parole, begins to take the largely untested psychedelic drug called Synth because his life and past are so miserable. Synth creates simulated and augmented reality in the brain that is totally indistinguishable from real life. At first Synth enables Markus to endure his misery by creating false realities for him, but then it begins to synthesize reality even when he does not take the drug.|
|Sophie's World||Jostein Gaarder||1991|
|Surface Detail||Iain M. Banks||2010||In which a civilization uses computer simulation and mind uploading to create and populate artificial Hells.|
|"They"||Robert A. Heinlein||1941||A short story that focuses on a man who believes the universe was created in order to deceive him.|
|The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch||Philip K. Dick||1965||In this future, alternate states of consciousness are mediated by widespread and legal use of hallucinogens.|
|Time Out of Joint||Philip K. Dick||1959||Ragle Gumm is trapped within an artificial reality that resembles small town America in the late fifties. It is disclosed to be a strategic simulation run by a Terran government at war with its separatist lunar colony in 1998.|
|"The Trouble with Bubbles"||Philip K. Dick||1953||In an era where scientific exploration has proven the solar system to be devoid of extraterrestrial life and robots take care of most work, humans pass time by building miniature simulated universes called Worldcraft Bubbles.|
|"The Tunnel under the World"||Frederik Pohl||1955||A person accidentally finds out that he lives the day of June 15 over and over again. It turns out that a ruthless advertising executive took over the whole ruins of a city that perished in an explosion of a chemical and rebuilt them, together with people, in miniature for testing high-pressure advertising campaigns.|
|Ubik||Philip K. Dick||1969||Several former corporate employees are killed but their consciousnesses remain sentient, albeit decaying, in a simulated shared hallucinatory experience.|
|Utopia||Lincoln Child||2002||Set in a futuristic amusement park called Utopia that relies heavily on holographics and robotics.|
|Valis||Philip K. Dick||1981||In this departure, it is our own world that is stated to be a hallucinatory overlay, produced from a gnosticdemiurge that is malignant-although it may also be a visual and auditory hallucination produced by authorial schizophrenia|
|"The Veldt"||Ray Bradbury||1951||A short story from The Illustrated Man, this grim tale describes two children who prefer their simulated-reality nursery to their parents.|
|Vurt||Jeff Noon||1993||In a future Manchester, England, people live for Vurt-a drug-like feather which produces perfectly lifelike illusions. The function of the feathers varies according to their colors.|
|World of Tiers||Philip José Farmer||1965 -1993||A group of novels based on the premise of travel to alternate pocket universes containing modified man-made worlds. In the series, it is eventually revealed that our existence is also based in a pocket universe whose extent reaches only part of the way to Alpha Centauri.|
|Automated Alice||Jeff Noon||1996|
|The Wonderland Gambit series||Jack L. Chalker||1995-1997||A trilogy that pays homage to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.|
|"You're Another"||Damon Knight||1955||This short story about a character who finds himself in a bizarre, perhaps movie-based reality was frequently reprinted, and was translated into French as "En Scène!".|
|"Crystal Nights"||Greg Egan||1992||This short story is a tale of a group of scientists that create a simulation of a world to explore evolution and societal development. Eventually they reveal themselves to the inhabitants and are treated as gods, but then their creations realize that there is more than meets the eye and plot their escape.|
Animation, anime, light novel, manga and cartoons
|Avalon||2001||Science fiction drama||By Mamoru Oshii|
|Brainscan||1994||Horror science fiction||A science fiction/horror film about a teenager playing an interactive video game; directed by John Flynn|
|Brainstorm||1983||Science fiction||Science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood|
|Brazil||1985||Science fiction||Directed by Terry Gilliam|
|The Cabin in the Woods||2012||Horror comedy||Directed by Drew Goddard, in which to prevent doomsday a group of teenagers must be sacrificed without their realizing what is really behind the horrors they experience. One reviewer wrote that the film "is all about the reality conspiracy."|
|Cargo||2009||Science fiction||Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter.|
|The Congress||2013||Live action/animation science fiction drama||Loosely based on Stanislaw Lem's novel The Futurological Congress||By Ari Folman and Stanislaw Lem: An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn't consider. A take on the common sci-fi trope of an apparently Utopian future that turns out to be an illusion.|
|Cube 2: Hypercube||2002||Science fiction psychological thriller||Written by Sean Hood|
|Darkdrive||1996||Science fiction||By Phillip J. Roth|
|Dark City||1998||Neo-noir, science fiction||By Alex Proyas|
|eXistenZ||1999||Science fiction body horror||By David Cronenberg, in which level switches occur so seamlessly and numerously that at the end of the movie it is difficult to tell whether the main characters are back in "reality".|
|Good Bye Lenin!||2003||Tragicomedy||By Wolfgang Becker: a Berlin family tries to make the feeble mother believe that East Germany did not fall.|
|Impostor||2002||Science Fiction||Philip K. Dick short story of the same name.||A man wakes up one morning and goes about his day, only to find himself arrested and accused of being an alien robot programmed to kill the Chancellor of Earth, and told that he is not even aware that he is impersonating a dead man from whose memories his were stolen.|
|Inception||2010||Science fiction heist thriller||Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, in which an extractor invades dreams to steal information and ideas, but is asked to implant an idea instead of stealing one.|
|The Island||2005||Science fiction action drama||Directed by Michael Bay, in which numerous clones of wealthy investors are kept in an isolated facility as to rejuvenate the investors with the clones' organs. The clones' facility is presented as an idealized society and the last safe place on Earth to prevent them from leaving.|
|Jacob's Ladder||1990||Psychological horror||Thriller directed by Adrian Lyne|
|The Lawnmower Man||1992||Science fiction action horror||Directed by Brett Leonard.|
|Lost Highway||1997||Neo-noir, psychological mystery thriller||By David Lynch|
|Mindwarp||1992||Science fiction||Directed by Steve Barnett|
|Nirvana||1997||Science fiction, cyberpunk||Written and directed by Gabriele Salvatores|
|The Matrix series||1999–2003||Science fiction, cyberpunk||By Lilly and Lana Wachowski, in which humanity lost a war against sentient robots and now are predominately used as bio-electric power for the robots, their minds kept active by populating them in the simulated reality of the Matrix|
|The Nines||2007||Science fantasy||Written and directed by John August, is focused on the subject of simulated reality.|
|Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)||1997||Psychological thriller||By Alejandro Amenábar (remade as Vanilla Sky, 2001).|
|Paperhouse||1988||Dark fantasy||Directed by Bernard Rose. Based on the novel Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr.|
|Source Code||2011||Science fiction, techno-thriller||An Army pilot is resurrected into a virtual world in order to identify and stop a would-be bomber; a science fiction techno-thriller film directed by Duncan Jones.|
|Strange Days||1995||Science fiction, cyberpunk, thriller||A thriller in which users can experience another person's memories; the film earned director Kathryn Bigelow a Saturn Award for Best Director. Angela Bassett won the Saturn Award for Best Actress.|
|Surrogates||2009||Science fiction, cyberpunk||Directed by Jonathan Mostow, is based on the 2005–2006 comic book series of the same name and stars Bruce Willis as an FBI agent who ventures out into the real world to investigate the murder of surrogates (humanoid remote control vehicles).|
|Synecdoche, New York||2008||Postmodern comedy drama||Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman: an eccentric theatre director creates a replica of New York City inside New York City, complete with a copy of himself making his own replica of New York City.|
|The Thirteenth Floor||1999||Science fiction||Daniel F. Galouye's Simulacron-3||Directed by Josef Rusnak, is loosely based upon Simulacron-3 (1964), a novel by Daniel F. Galouye, and features many characters acting within an uncertain number of layers of virtual reality.|
|Total Recall||1990||Science fiction action||Philip K. Dick's story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"||Directed by Paul Verhoeven, in which the lead character, looking to have the inexpensive memories of a trip to a Mars colony implanted in his mind, experiences an adventure of espionage that leads him to Mars and helps free the colony from an exploitive businessman, but whether these are part of the memory implant or reality is open-ended.|
|Tron||1982||Science fiction||Released by Walt Disney Productions. The film was written and directed by Steven Lisberger. A computer programmer is transported inside the software world of a mainframe computer, where he interacts with various programs in his attempt to get back out.|
|Tron Legacy||2010||Science fiction||By Walt Disney Pictures|
|Vanilla Sky||2001||Science fiction psychological thriller||Remake of Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)||Directed by Cameron Crowe, in which the lead character experiences out-of-control lucid dreaming while having been cryogenically frozen|
|Virtuosity||1995||Science fiction action||Directed by Brett Leonard|
|World on a Wire (Welt am Draht)||1973||Science fiction||Daniel F. Galouye's Simulacron-3||German film adaptation of the novel Simulacron-3, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.|
|Welcome to Blood City||1977||Science fiction Western||Directed by Peter Sasdy|
|Westworld||1973||Science fiction Western-thriller||Directed by writer Michael Crichton|
- Doctor Who episode "The Deadly Assassin" (1976), written by Robert Holmes.
- Matrix computer from the Doctor Who universe.
- Doctor Who episodes "Forest of the Dead" and "Extremis", written by Steven Moffat and "Amy's Choice", written by Simon Nye.
- Farscape episode "John Quixote" (2002) places the lead character in a virtual reality game.
- Harsh Realm (1999) was a science fiction television series about humans trapped inside a virtual reality simulation. It was developed by Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files and Millennium.
- The Outer Limits episode "The Sentence" (1996)
- The Prisoner (1967-1968)
- Red Dwarf episodes "Better Than Life", "Back to Reality", "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", "Stoke Me a Clipper", "Blue", "Beyond a Joke" and "Back in the Red" by Rob Grant and/or Doug Naylor with Paul Alexander, Kim Fuller and Robert Llewellyn all feature some sort of artificial reality or "total immersion video game".
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Episode "Future Imperfect" (1990): During an away mission, Commander William Riker loses consciousness; he awakes sixteen years in the future with that period of his memory lost; he is now the new Captain of the Enterprise, is widowed and has a son named Jean-Luc (after Picard); this eventually turns out to be a simulated reality.
- Episode "The Inner Light" (1992): Jean-Luc Picard is rendered unconscious by a probe of unknown origin. Within the span of 25 minutes, he lives the life of a scientist named Kamin from the doomed planet of Kataan whose sun had gone nova 1000 years before. The probe contains the stored memories of Kataan's civilization which Picard relives as Kamin.
- Episode "Ship in a Bottle" (1993): The fictional Professor Moriarty of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories is allowed to exist in a holodeck simulation of the world.
- Star Trek: The Original Series episodes "The Cage" and "The Menagerie", the unaired pilot and later episode (respectively).
- Star Trek: Voyager: Several episodes took place in the holodeck, including "Fair Haven", "Spirit Folk" or the two part episode "The Killing Game".
- Stargate SG-1 episode "The Gamekeeper"
- The Twilight Zone (1959), and its later revivals, feature a number of episodes involving false or simulated realities of some sort. Examples include "Where Is Everybody?" and "Dreams for Sale".
- The X-Files features a number of episodes involving simulated realities of some sort, such as "Kill Switch" and "First Person Shooter", both written by William Gibson and Tom Maddox.
- The U.S. TV series Life on Mars (2008-2009)
- Black Mirror
- The third arc of the 4th season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. focuses on the characters trapped within a simulated reality.
Computer and video games
- ^Kelleghan, Fiona (July 1998). "Private Hells and Radical Doubts: An Interview with Jonathan Lethem". Science Fiction Studies. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
- ^Von Ruff, Al. "Bibliography: The Cookie Monster". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
- ^Alexander, Justin. "What I'm Reading #46 - The Short Stories of Vernor Vinge". The Alexandrian. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
- ^Shippey, Tom (Aug 17, 2012). "We Can Build You: Tom Shippey reviews Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick, and How to Build An Android by David F. Dufty". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
- ^Duncan, David (October 1960). "The Immortals". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 162–193.
- ^Von Ruff, Al. "Bibliography: You're Another". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
- ^Bradshaw, Peter (12 April 2012). "The Cabin in the Woods – review". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
- ^Max hallucinating on Valkyr - [the note reads] You're in a graphic novel & Michelle Payne: [the note reads] You're in a computer game, Max.
ENG 104, Prof. C. Agatucci
Midterm Literary Analysis Paper
26 October 2003
Plot and Character in Maupassant’s “The Necklace”
“Life…is composed of the most unpredictable, disparate, and contradictory elements,” according to Guy de Maupassant. “It is brutal, inconsequential, and disconnected, full of inexplicable, illogical catastrophes” (“The Writer’s Goal" 897). Utterly to the point with his words, Guy de Maupassant’s fame as a writer stemmed from his “direct and simple way” of telling readers what he observed (Chopin 861). His short story, “The Necklace,” is no exception. “The Necklace” is evidence of the literary realism that dominated literature during the 19th century. Cora Agatucci, a professor of Humanities, states that the subjects of literature during this time period revolved around “everyday events, lives, [and the] relationships of middle/lower class people” (Agatucci 2003). In “The Necklace,” Maupassant describes an unhappy woman, born to a poor family and married to a poor husband, who suffers “ceaselessly” from her lower-class lifestyle, “[…] feeling herself born for all the delicacies and all the luxuries” (Maupassant 524). Through the unfolding of the plot and the exquisite characterization of Mathilde and her husband, Maupassant offers readers a dramatic account of what could happen when a person is not satisfied with her place in life.
Ann Charters defines plot as “the sequence of events in a story and their relation to one another as they develop and usually resolve a conflict” (Charters1003). According to Charters, there are five major parts of a plot. The exposition explains the characters, the time period, and the present situation; the rising action introduces a major complication, with smaller conflicts occurring along the way; the climax, or the dramatic
turning point in the action of the story; the falling action, which helps wrap up the major complication; and finally, the conclusion of the story (Charters 1004-1005).
Plot plays a vital role in “The Necklace,” particularly the exposition. Approximately one page is devoted entirely to Mathilde’s description, a description of both her physical appearance as well as her mentality, giving the readers a crystal clear picture of the main character and the reasons behind her depression. Mathilde “dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station,” undoubtedly a station of wealth and prosperity in her mind. Suffering “from the poverty of her dwelling,” Mathilde often dreamt of “silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra” when her own drab furniture and dreary walls angered her to look at them (Maupassant 524). The exposition paints Mathilde as a woman who feels she’s been dealt a poor hand in life, a woman desiring riches far beyond her grasp, which foreshadows the events to come later in the plot.
“The action of the plot is performed by the characters in the story, the people who make something happen or produce an effect” (Charters 1006). Without the characters, the plot would be meaningless because the characters bring the plot to life. Charters also explains that characters can be one of two types: dynamic or static. A static character does not change throughout the story; he or she just stays the same, while a dynamic character is often described as “round” and often changes throughout the course of the story (Charters 1007). The way an author chooses to develop a character affects the entire story, particularly the climax. If a character developed as a calm and level headed
person, he or she will react wisely to conflicts or emotional turning points; however, if a character is developed as greedy and self absorbed, the climax of the story will cause the character to make irrational choices in the face of conflict, as Mathilde, the dynamic main character of “The Necklace” illustrates.
Mathilde’s character is consistently unhappy with her own life and her own possessions, always longing for more than what she has. When her husband brings home the invitation to the ball, hoping his wife will be thrilled at the chance to attend such an exclusive gathering, she instead “threw the invitation on the table with disdain,” because she had nothing to wear. At her husband’s suggestion of wearing her theater dress, she simply cries with grief. When the dress dilemma is resolved, Mathilde is “sad, uneasy, [and] anxious” (Maupassant 525). Her lack of fine jewelry and gems makes her feel that she “should almost rather not go at all” (Maupassant 526). Clearly, Mathilde’s character is one with an insatiable greed for what she does not have.
Later in the story, after the precious necklace has been lost, Mathilde’s character appears to change, taking on the role of a poor woman with “heroism.” As she is forced to scrub dishes, wash laundry, and bargain with their “miserable” money, the reader would assume Mathilde has been humbled by her greed and the price she paid for insisting on wearing the diamond necklace. The reader questions the extent of Mathilde’s transformation when Mathilde sits at her window and ponders the evening of the ball, remembering her beauty and the attention she received.
Contrary to Mathilde is her husband, M. Loisel, a character who remains static throughout the course of “The Necklace.” M. Loisel seems happy with the small things
in life, desiring only please his wife. When he sits down to a supper of soup, he exclaims, “Ah, the good pot-au-feu! I don’t know anything better than that” (Maupassant 524). Meanwhile, Mathilde is picturing food she feels she is worthy of, like “the pink flesh of a trout or the wings of a quail” (Maupassant 524). M. Loisel does look his patience once with his wife, saying to her, “How stupid you are!” (Maupassant 526) when she is upset about her lack of jewelry. Other than that small episode, M. Loisel remains fairly consistent throughout the length of the story.
The construction of the plot, such as the dramatic climax when Mathilde realizes she has lost the necklace, combined with the shaping of the two main characters, Mathilde and her husband, force the reader to realize the unspoken theme of the story. Mathilde’s envy of other people’s possessions leads to the eventual demise of her life, while her husband’s contentment with what he has allows him to remain essentially unchanged, illustrates the theme running throughout the story, which is the importance of being satisfied with who you are and what you have, as well as the importance of not wanting or envying what other’s have. This theme becomes obvious when, in the exposition, Mathilde’s perspective on her life makes her seem poor and underprivileged; yet, when the Loisels are forced to make drastic changes in their way of life, such as firing their maid and moving to more economical lodging, the reader realizes the poverty Mathilde suffers from is not poverty at all compared to the life they must lead after they are forced to replace the diamond necklace.
Without a strong plot that envelops the reader in the ongoing action, a story is not as powerful or effective; without good characterization of the main characters, there is no
mechanism for the plot to unfold. If there is not an effective plot with identifiable characters, the theme of any story is lost to the reader, so clearly the three go hand in hand with each other. Maupassant’s ability to communicate facts and descriptions, leaving the emotional interpretation for the reader, is what he’s known for. In fact, this ability makes the reader feel as though Maupassant is telling the story for their ears and hearts only. Kate Chopin eloquently wrote, “I like to cherish the delusion that he has spoken to no one else so directly, so intimately as he does to me” (Chopin 862).
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College). “Emergence of the Short Story: Literary Romanticism and Realism-Poe
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