The Necklace Essay
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It tells the tale of a dissatisfied middle-class woman whose dreams of wealth and glamour end in disaster. Mathilde Loisel is middle class woman and has a kind husband. However, she is cooped up in the house all day with nothing to do, and her days are marked with boredom beyond belief. Her only way out of dealing with it is to live in a fantasy world of glamour, wealth, and beautiful people.
Does that situation really seem all that far-removed from today? In many ways, the figure of the dissatisfied housewife is just as relevant now as it was then.
Just like Maupassant’s contemporaries, we’re still fascinated by it, perhaps because we’re troubled by it. And can’t we all relate in some way to Mathilde’s desire to live a more exciting, glamorous life, even if we can only do it in daydreams?
The Necklace Summary
At the beginning of the story, we meet Mathilde Loisel, a middle-class girl who desperately wishes she were wealthy. She’s got looks and charm, but had the bad luck to be born into a family of clerks, who marry her to another clerk (M. Loisel) in the Department of Education. Mathilde is so convinced she’s meant to be rich that she detests her real life and spends all day dreaming and despairing about the fabulous life she’s not having. She envisions footmen, feasts, fancy furniture, and strings of rich young men to seduce.
One day M. Loisel comes home with an invitation to a fancy ball thrown by his boss, the Minister of Education. M. Loisel has gone to a lot of trouble to get the invitation, but Mathilde’s first reaction is to throw a fit. She doesn’t have anything nice to wear, and can’t possibly go! How dare her husband be so insensitive? M. Loisel doesn’t know what to do, and offers to buy his wife a dress, so long as it’s not too expensive. Mathilde asks for 400 francs, and he agrees. It’s not too long before Mathilde throws another fit, though, this time because she has no jewels. So M. Loisel suggests she go see her friend Mme. Forestier, a rich woman who can probably lend her something. Mathilde goes to see Mme. Forestier, and she is in luck. Mathilde is able to borrow a gorgeous diamond necklace. With the necklace, she’s sure to be a stunner.
The night of the ball arrives, and Mathilde has the time of her life. Everyone loves her (i.e., lusts after her) and she is absolutely thrilled. She and her husband (who falls asleep off in a corner) don’t leave until 4am. Mathilde suddenly dashes outside to avoid being seen in her shabby coat. She and her husband catch a cab and head home. But once back at home, Mathilde makes a horrifying discovery: the diamond necklace is gone.
M. Loisel spends all of the next day, and even the next week, searching the city for the necklace, but finds nothing. It’s gone. So he and Mathilde decide they have no choice but to buy Mme. Forestier a new necklace. They visit one jewelry store after another until at last they find a necklace that looks just the same as the one they lost. Unfortunately, it’s 36 thousand francs, which is exactly twice the amount of all the money M. Loisel has to his name. So M. Loisel goes massively into debt and buys the necklace, and Mathilde returns it to Mme. Forestier, who doesn’t notice the substitution. Buying the necklace catapults the Loisels into poverty for the next ten years. That’s right, ten years. They lose their house, their maid, their comfortable lifestyle, and on top of it all Mathilde loses her good looks.
After ten years, all the debts are finally paid, and Mathilde is out for a jaunt on the Champs Elysées. There she comes across Mme. Forestier, rich and beautiful as ever. Now that all the debts are paid off, Mathilde decides she wants to finally tell Mme. Forestier the sad story of the necklace and her ten years of poverty, and she does. At that point, Mme. Forestier, aghast, reveals to Mathilde that the necklace she lost was just a fake. It was worth only five hundred francs.
* The narrator introduces us to a girl. We don’t know her name yet, but apparently she’s charming, attractive, and, believes that she should have been born into a rich family. * Instead she wound up in a family of “employees” and ended up marrying a “little clerk” in Department of Education (1). * Our ordinary girl is convinced that she’s meant for the extraordinary life of a fabulously rich girl. * She hates her own humble surroundings and spends her time dreaming about fancy tapestries and tall footmen. While her husband slurps his stew she imagines grand banquets. * A life of luxury is all the girl wants – it’s what she’s madefor. But sadly, she doesn’t lead the luxurious life of which she dreams. * Consequently, she spends all her days weeping and feeling sorry for herself. * One evening, the girl’s husband comes in with a large envelope.
* She tears it open to find that she and her husband – M. and Mme. (“Monsieur and Madame) Loisel – have been invited to a fancy party at the Minister of Education’s palace. Her husband can’t wait to see her reaction. * Mme. Loisel is not happy about this. She’s got nothing to wear. This is enough to send her into tears. * M. Loisel feels awful, and asks his wife, Mathilde, how much a simple, pretty dress for the ball would cost. * Mathilde stops to think it over – how much can she ask for before her husband flips out – and at last tells him four hundred francs would probably do it. * M Loisel agrees to give Mathilde four hundred francs. There goes that new gun he’d been saving for. * The date of the party approaches, and Mathilde is in a bad mood again. * This time it’s jewels: she doesn’t have any to wear over her dress.
* M. Loisel suggests she wear flowers, but Mathilde will have none of that. * M. Loisel suggests that Mathilde borrow some jewels from her rich friend Mme. Forestier. Now there’s an idea. * The next day, Mathilde visits Mme. Forestier and tells her about her situation. Mme. Forestier brings out a big box of jewels and tells Mathilde to pick whatever she wants. * Mathilde isn’t satisfied with anything she sees, but then Mme. Forestier brings her another box containing a spectacular diamond necklace. * Mathilde is beside herself. It’s the only thing she wants! Mme. Forestier agrees to let her borrow it. * The evening of the party arrives, and Mathilde is a smash hit. All the men – including the Minister – notice her. She’s in heaven. Her husband, meanwhile, has also been having a great time: he’s been off dozing in a corner since midnight. * When it’s four o’clock and at last time to go, M. Loisel brings the coats. But Mathilde is self-conscious: her coat is so shabby compared to the rest of her appearance. So she dashes off into the street to avoid being seen.
* M. Loisel follows Mathilde into the streets, and they spend a long time wandering around, shivering, and looking for a carriage. * At last they find one and head back home, glumly. Mathilde doesn’t want to go back to her ordinary life, and M. Loisel doesn’t want to get up for work at 10am. * As soon as they enter the house, Mathilde rushes to a mirror to see herself all decked-out one last time. But the diamond necklace is missing. She screams. * M. Loisel wants to know what the matter is, and Mathilde tells him. They search frantically through her dress and coat for the necklace, but it’s nowhere to be found. * The Loisels review all the places they’ve been to figure out where the necklace could have been lost, and M. Loisel decides it must have been left in the cab. But unfortunately, neither of them has the cab number.
* M. Loisel goes back out in search of the necklace, and returns at 7am with nothing. He spends all of the next day searching, visiting the police HQ, the cab company, and still has nothing. * Mathilde, meanwhile, spends the day stuck in a chair, too traumatized to do anything. * When he returns, M. Loisel has Mathilde write to Mme. Forestier to say that they broke the clasp of the necklace and are having it fixed. They need to buy more time. * A week passes, and still no sign of the necklace. M. Loisel, who already looks five years older, decides they have no choice but to replace it. * He and Mathilde go to see the jeweler whose name was on the necklace box to see about a replacement. The jeweler says that he did not sell the necklace, just the case. * M. and Mme. Loisel start going from jeweler to jeweler, hoping to find a necklace just like the one they remember. * At last they find one in a jewelry store at the Palais Royale.
* There is just one problem: It’s forty thousand francs (thirty-six thousand after bargaining), which is a ton of money. M. Loisel asks the jeweler to hold the necklace for them a few days. * It turns out that M. Loisel has only 18,000 francs to his name, in the form of his inheritance from his father. All the rest of the money to buy the necklace he has to get by taking out loans. * So he takes out enough loans to pay for the necklace – and to ensure that his life will be ruined forever – and then goes back to the jeweler’s to buy it. * Mathilde takes the replacement necklace to Mme. Forestier, who’s miffed that she didn’t return her necklace sooner. Mathilde’s worried she’ll notice the substitution.
* Mme. Forestier does not open the box, and does not see the substitution. * Now Mathilde and M. Loisel are poor. They have to dismiss the maid and move into an attic. Mathilde starts to do the housework, and run the errands, haggling at stores over every cent. M. Loisel works two night jobs. * This goes on for ten years, until all the interest on the Loisels’ loans is paid. Mathilde is now a rough, hard woman, and her looks are ruined. She occasionally thinks of how her life might have been different if she hadn’t lost the necklace… * One Sunday, Mathilde goes for a stroll on the Champs Elysées (main street of Paris that you see in all the movies), and notices a beautiful young-looking woman walking with her child.
* It’s Mme. Forestier, who hasn’t aged one day. Mathilde decides it’s time to tell her everything that happened. * When Mathilde greets Mme. Forestier by her first name, Mme. Forestier does not recognize her former friend, because she looks so different She gives a cry of surprise when Mathilde reveals who she is. * Mathilde tells Mme. Forestier that her life’s been hard, and all on account of her. Mme. Forestier doesn’t understand. * Mathilde explains that she’d lost the diamond necklace, but replaced it, and has spent the last ten years paying for the replacement. (Mme. Forestier apparently hadn’t noticed the difference) * Mme. Forestier grabs Mathilde by the hands, shaken.
* Her diamond necklace, she tells Mathilde, was a fake. It was worth at most five hundred francs.
The Necklace Themes
The Necklace Theme of Wealth
“The Necklace” gets its title from the gorgeous piece of diamond jewelry that drives the story’s plot. The expensive nature of the necklace is not the only way in which wealth is central to this story. The main character of “The Necklace” is obsessed with wealth. She wants nothing else than to escape from her shabby middle-class life with a shabby middle-class husband and live the glamorous life for which she was born. She’s so jealous of her one wealthy friend it hurts. When Mathilde’s given the chance to get decked out in diamonds and go to a ritzy party to mingle with all the beautiful people, it seems like her dreams have finally become a reality. Then she loses the borrowed diamond necklace, gets cast into poverty, and learns what it means to truly live without money.
The Necklace Wealth Quotes
She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished. (1)| The first thing we know about Mathilde is that she seems meant for a life of wealth and luxury, but instead is born into a lowly middle-class family. We don’t even know her name yet, but we know this other information about her. The conflict between what she wants (which is quite a lot) and what she has is established immediately. She let her mind dwell on the quiet vestibules, hung with Oriental tapestries, lighted by tall lamps of bronze, and on the two tall footmen in knee breeches who dozed in the large armchairs, made drowsy by the heat of the furnace. She let her mind dwell on the large parlors, decked with old silk, with their delicate furniture, supporting precious bric-a-brac, and on the coquettish little rooms, perfumed, prepared for the five o’clock chat with the most intimate friends, men well known and sought after, whose attentions all women envied and desired.
(3)| Mathilde spends her time living in a dream world, in which she imagines all the fabulous things she’d have if she were rich. The most detail we get in the otherwise sparse story comes in Maupassant’s descriptions of the fancy stuff Mathilde wants. But being rich also means more than just nice stuff to her: it means having the glamour to attract men. She had a rich friend, a comrade of her convent days, whom she did not want to go and see any more, so much did she suffer as she came away. (6)| Mathilde wants to be wealthy so badly that she’s driven mad with jealousy by the one rich friend she has, Mme. Forestier. She can’t bear to see Mme. Forestier, because it brings her within arm’s reach of the world of wealth she wants so badly, but can’t have. She reflected a few seconds, going over her calculations, and thinking also of the sum which she might ask without meeting an immediate refusal and a frightened exclamation from the frugal clerk.
(24)| It looks like Mathilde is milking her husband for all he’s worth here. Was her the crying fit put on so she could seize the opportunity to get a fancy dress from him? “It annoys me not to have a jewel, not a single stone, to put on. I shall look wretched. I would almost rather not go to this party.” (33)| OK, so after she’s gotten an expensive dress out of her husband, Mathilde refuses to go to the party again. She’s still not satisfied. This time, it’s jewels. She needs jewels. Does this mean Mathilde actually expects her husband to get her a piece of jewelry?
All at once she discovered, in a box of black satin, a superb necklace of diamonds, and her heart began to beat with boundless desire. Her hands trembled in taking it up. She fastened it round her throat, on her high dress, and remained in ecstasy before herself. (48)| Maybe diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Just seeing and touching something expensive and beautiful drives Mathilde crazy. She’s in “ecstasy” over a necklace. The necklace may be a symbol for wealth, or glamour in the story. Even if it isn’t, it certainly seems to equate to those things for Mathilde. When Mme. Loisel took back the necklace to Mme. Forestier, the latter said, with an irritated air: –
“You ought to have brought it back sooner, for I might have needed it.” (95-96)| It’s interesting that Mme. Forestier reacts so snippily to having the necklace returned late. One would think that because she has so much, it wouldn’t really matter when one particular piece of jewelry was returned. This could either mean that her wealth makes her more greedy with what she has or that she considers the necklace one of her best pieces of jewelry. Which is a little interesting, since we learn later that it’s a fake… Mme. Loisel learned the horrible life of the needy. She made the best of it, moreover, frankly, heroically. The frightful debt must be paid. She would pay it. They dismissed the servant; they changed their rooms; they took an attic under the roof. (98)| After losing the necklace, Mathilde now finds herself actually poor. Though she felt herself “poor” before, she was fairly comfortable, and middle class. Now her life is much harder. The other did not recognize her, astonished to be hailed thus familiarly by this woman of the people. She hesitated –
“But – madam – I don’t know – are you not making a mistake?” (111-112)| Mme. Forestier and Mathilde are now greatly separated by their wealth, which translates into social class. The class difference is so big that it seems improper for Mathilde to even address Mme. Forestier by her first name. Their classes are also immediately apparent from the way they look. “Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine were false. At most they were worth five hundred francs!” (128)| Mme. Forestier reveals that the diamond necklace Mathilde lost was actually a fake. Does the falsehood of the jewels symbolize the falsehood of wealth? Does it change the way we think of Mathilde’s former dreams? Or, on another note, does it perhaps mean something about Mme. Forestier? If her best piece of jewelry is a fake, maybe she’s not quite as wealthy as she initially seems.
The Necklace Theme of Women and Femininity
Mathilde Loisel, the main character of “The Necklace,” is a 19th century French version of a desperate housewife. Because she’s a woman in a man’s world, she has almost no control over her life. She finds herself married to a husband she doesn’t care for, and cooped up in a house she despises. What she wants more than anything else is to be desirable to other men. And what’s particularly irritating is that she has all the “womanly virtues” she needs in order to be desirable: she’s charming, graceful, beautiful. She’s just doesn’t have the necessary wealth. Does Mathilde Loisel capture the tragic plight of the modern, middle-class woman? Is she a victim of the patriarchal society in which she lives? Or is she just a shallow and materialistic character?
The Necklace Women and Femininity Quotes
She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education. (1)| Mathilde’s future prospects are not in her own hands. She’s a woman, which means the quality of her life will basically depend upon her family and her husband. And in both respects, she’s out of luck, as far as she’s concerned. With so much powerlessness, it’s no wonder she’s frustrated and dissatisfied. She was simple since she could not be adorned; but she was unhappy as though kept out of her own class; for women have no caste and no descent, their beauty, their grace, and their charm serving them instead of birth and fortune. Their native keenness, their instinctive elegance, their flexibility of mind, are their only hierarchy; and these make the daughters of the people the equals of the most lofty dames. (2)| The narrator is suggesting that looks and charm make the woman, not wealth or good birth.
According to this train of thought, a pretty, charming poor woman can be the equal of “the most lofty dame.” This is certainly the way Mathilde feels about herself – she has the looks and the charm to be better at being a “woman” than most rich women. It’s telling that the two “virtues” of a woman are the qualities that make them attractive to men. We don’t hear anything about intelligence, or kindness, or creativity… She had no dresses, no jewelry, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only. She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after. (5)| Mathilde wants to be desired by men. To some extent, even her desire for wealth is just derivative of that. Her highest wish is to be approved of and wanted by someone else. But by a violent effort she had conquered her trouble, and she replied in a calm voice as she wiped her damp cheeks… (20)| Mathilde comes across as overly sensitive and emotional. She has to work very hard to control her emotions.
There’s a feminine stereotype for you on which Maupassant is playing. “No; there’s nothing more humiliating than to look poor among a lot of rich women.” (37)| Wealth and womanhood are intimately bound up in Mathilde’s mind. She wants to look wealthy so she can compete with the richwomen. The day of the party arrived. Mme. Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest of them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and mad with joy. All the men were looking at her, inquiring her name, asking to be introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wanted to dance with her. The Minister took notice of her. (53)| Mathilde’s a huge hit. She gets all the men to pay attention her, including the most important one of all (the minister). This is the best moment of her life. She danced with delight, with passion, intoxicated with pleasure, thinking of nothing, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happinessmade up of all these tributes, of all the admirations, of all these awakened desires, of this victory so complete and so sweet to a woman’s heart. (54)|
The narrator seems to be suggesting here that Mathilde’s desires – to look glamorous and beautiful and be desired by men – are more generally “woman’s” desires. That’s what makes women happy and pleases their “womanly hearts.” Again, it seems to be entirely stereotyped. She went away about four in the morning. Since midnight – her husband had been dozing in a little anteroom with three other men whose wives were having a good time. (55)| M. Loisel could care less about the party – he’s just happy to have an opportunity to sleep. And he’s not the only man in that situation, either. What does that mean? Maybe being a “man” he has different desires than his wife’s womanly ones. Or maybe he’s not interested in scouting out other men’s wives because he’s already got an attractive and charming wife of his own.
Mathilde, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to feel the same way about her husband. Mme. Loisel seemed aged now. She had become the robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household. Badly combed, with her skirts awry and her hands red, her voice was loud, and she washed the floor with splashing water. (104)| Once more, we see a connection between wealth and womanhood. According to Maupassant, Mathilde’s poverty makes her less feminine. She’s less attractive, and less graceful. Instead, she’s “hard and rough,” and older looking. And apparently has a perpetual bad hair day. Then, one Sunday, as she was taking a turn in the Champs Elysées, as a recreation after the labors of the week, she perceived suddenly a woman walking with a child. It was Mme. Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still seductive. (107)| Unlike Mathilde, who’s lost her looks and “womanly charms” to poverty, Mme. Forestier still looks good. All of that even after becoming a mother (another sign of womanhood). This makes us wonder why Mathilde doesn’t have a child?
The Necklace Theme of Pride
You can read “The Necklace” as a story about greed, but you can also read it as a story about pride. Mathilde Loisel is a proud woman. She feels far above the humble circumstances (and the husband) she’s forced to live with by her common birth. In fact, her current situation disgusts her. She’s a vain one too, completely caught up in her own beauty. It could be that it is also pride that prevents Mathilde and her husband from admitting they’ve lost an expensive necklace. After the loss of the necklace makes Mathilde poor, and her beauty fades, she may learn a pride of a different sort: pride in her own work and endurance.
The Necklace Pride Quotes
She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs. All these things, which another woman of her caste would not even have noticed, tortured her and made her indignant. (3)| Mathilde feels herself to be better than her circumstances. She deserves more than she has, and is angry at the universe because she isn’t getting it. Her dissatisfaction seems intimately connected to pride. When she sat down to dine, before a tablecloth three days old, in front of her husband, who lifted the cover of the tureen, declaring with an air of satisfaction, “Ah, the goodpot-au-feu. I don’t know anything better than that,” she was thinking of delicate repasts, with glittering silver, with tapestries peopling the walls with ancient figures and with strange birds in a fairy-like forest. (4)| Mathilde’s husband is the opposite of Mathilde: he’s happy with what he has.
So far as he’s concerned, there’s nothing better than the good old stew his wife puts on the table every evening. All Mathilde can think of at the same moment is how much better things could be, and how she’d rather be elsewhere. It all seems too low to her. “Nothing. Only I have no clothes, and in consequence I cannot go to this party. Give your card to some colleague whose wife has a better outfit than I.” (21)| Instead of being happy with the invitation her husband has worked so hard to get, Mathilde’s first reaction is to be angry about it.
If she’s going to go, she just has to look the best, and she doesn’t have any clothes that are nice enough Is she everhappy? Then again, would you want to go to the one nice party you’ve been invited to looking shabby? It’s hard to tell whether Mathilde’s vanity, or greed, is making her overreact, or whether she does have nothing nice to wear. She saw at first bracelets, then a necklace of pearls, then a Venetian cross of gold set with precious stones of an admirable workmanship. She tried on the ornaments before the glass, hesitated, and could not decide to take them off and to give them up. She kept on asking: –
“You haven’t anything else?” (45-46)|
OK, so the jewel situation looks better: Mathilde’s found a treasure trove of the things. But she’s still not satisfied. None of them makes her look as good as she wants to look. Her vanity once again seems to be making her greedy. The day of the party arrived. Mme. Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest of them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and mad with joy. All the men were looking at her, inquiring her name, asking to be introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wanted to dance with her. The Minister took notice of her. (53)| Mathilde’s the happiest she’s ever been when everyone is admiring her. For once in her life, she can live up to the expectations her vanity has set for itself.
He threw over her shoulders the wraps he had brought to go home in, modest garments of every-day life, the poverty of which was out of keeping with the elegance of the ball dress. She felt this, and wanted to fly so as not to be noticed by the other women, who were wrapping themselves up in rich furs. (56)| After a successful evening at the ball, Mathilde’s too proud to let herself be seen wearing her shabby wrap. She needs to keep up the illusion. It could be that her rushing off like this is what causes her to lose the necklace. At the end of a week they had lost all hope. And Loisel, aged by five years, declared: –
“We must see how we can replace those jewels.” (86-87)|
Why does it never occur to Mathilde or M. Loisel to tell Mme. Forestier they’ve lost the necklace? Instead, once they lose hope of finding it, M. Loisel decides the only solution is to buy a new one. Is he too proud to admit that it’s been lost? Or is it something else? (See M. Loisel’s “Character Analysis” for more of our thoughts on this.) Mme. Loisel learned the horrible life of the needy. She made the best of it, moreover, frankly, heroically. The frightful debt must be paid. She would pay it. (98)| When Mathilde becomes poor, she is forced to work.
Getting down to work and paying off the debts seems to make her proud in a new way. She can be proud of her hard work, and of her endurance. Meanwhile, her looks – which used to be her pride and joy – start to disappear. “I brought you back another just like it. And now for ten years we have been paying for it. You will understand that it was not easy for us, who had nothing. At last, it is done, and I am mighty glad.” (122)| Mathilde is proud of all the work and suffering she and her husband have put into repaying for the necklace. It was an honorable and difficult thing to do. But they’ve succeeded. “Yes. You did not notice it, even, did you? They were exactly alike?”
And she smiled with proud and naïve joy. (126-127)|
Mathilde is even more proud to learn that Mme. Forestier didn’t notice the difference between her original necklace and the substitute. It adds extra validation to her work: she did fully make up for losing the necklace.
The Necklace Theme of Suffering
“The Necklace” is a difficult story to read. If you think about it, it’s about nonstop suffering, caused by the cruelty of life and chance. At the opening, we meet Mathilde, the classic dissatisfied housewife, who spends her days weeping about how boring and shabby her life is. Mathilde finds one moment of real joy when she goes to a ball, but chance is cruel. Her happiest night becomes her worst nightmare when she loses thediamond necklace she borrowed. Then she and her husband experience a very different sort of suffering: the suffering of real poverty. And all of this is just the buildup to one devastating ending…
The Necklace Suffering Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
Citations follow this format: (Paragraph)
She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education. (1)| The opening line of the story makes it sound as if Mathilde is almost fated to be unhappy. It’s only chance – being born into one family and not another – that prevents her from living the kind of life she so wants to lead. Naturally, she’s attractive and charming, and if she were born into a rich family rather than an average one, she’d have the life she wanted. Something that’s a result of luck – what family she’s born into – becomes a fate fore her, because it restricts the possibilities for the rest of her life. She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs.
All these things, which another woman of her caste would not even have noticed, tortured her and made her indignant. The sight of the little girl from Brittany who did her humble housework awoke in her desolated regrets and distracted dreams. (3)| Mathilde is unhappy locked up in her house, just being there makes her suffer. She finds it oppressive. Her only method of coping with it is to live in a dream world. The question is, does Mathilde just suffer because she’s excessively greedy? Or does she suffer because her life is boring and meaningless? And she wept all day long, from chagrin, from regret, from despair, and from distress. (6)| In case you needed any additional proof that Mathilde is miserable, she spends all day crying. Her life has essentially nothing enjoyable in it. She danced with delight, with passion, intoxicated with pleasure, thinking of nothing, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happinessmade up of all these tributes, of all the admirations, of all these awakened desires, of this victory so complete and so sweet to a woman’s heart. (54)| This represents Mathilde’s one moment of genuine joy.
It’s just about the only such moment in the whole story, and forms a high point between two long bouts of unhappiness. It brought them to their door, rue des Martyrs; and they went up their own stairs sadly. For her it was finished. And he was thinking that he would have to be at the Ministry at ten o’clock. (61)| And just like that, the fabulous night at the ball is over. The happiness was fleeting, and is replaced by the dull unhappiness of daily life. And he went out. She stayed there, in her ball dress, without strength to go to bed, overwhelmed, on a chair, without a fire, without a thought. (79)| The object which made Mathilde’s glorious night possible has become her worst nightmare just a few hours later. She’s so traumatized she can’t even get out of her chair. How quickly the situation reverses. The fact that Mathilde’s hasn’t even changed out of her lovely ball gown captures that reversal in an image. He gave promissory notes, made ruinous agreements, dealt with usurers, with all kinds of lenders.
He compromised the end of his life, risked his signature without even knowing whether it could be honored; and, frightened by all the anguish of the future, by the black misery which was about to settle down on him, by the perspective of all sorts of physical deprivations and of all sorts of moral tortures, he went to buy the new diamond necklace, laying down on the jeweler’s counter thirty-six thousand francs. (94)| Mathilde’s not the only one suffering now. By losing the necklace, she’s ruined her husband’s life too. He’s gone from living a comfortable life to a life plagued by fear and uncertainty. M. Loisel knows at this point that life is about to get unpleasant, and he’s afraid. She learned the rough work of the household, the odious labors of the kitchen. She washed the dishes, wearing out her pink nails on the greasy pots and the bottoms of the pans.
She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and the towels, which she dried on a rope; she carried down the garbage to the street every morning, and she carried up the water, pausing for breath on every floor. And, dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, a basket on her arm, bargaining, insulted, fighting for her wretched money, sou by sou. (99)| Now Mathilde has to live the life of a poor woman, and it’s a hardlife: dirty, busy, and exhausting. Where before she had a maid to do her work (and could spend the day dreaming or crying), now Mathilde has to do all the house chores herself, and they’re never ending. She can no longer even afford to be graceful or charming; she has to be rough and aggressive, because she’s so poor that she has to pick fights over pennies. Her “dissatisfied” life before has been replaced by real suffering.
What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows? Who knows? How singular life is, how changeable! What a little thing it takes to save you or to lose you. (106)| You could say that last sentence sums up the whole story. All it took was one little thing – losing one piece of jewelry after a party one night – to completely change the course of the Loisels’ life forever. If only Mathilde had paid more attention for an hour or so that night, she wouldn’t have lost the necklace, and everything would be different.
People’s lives are so terribly vulnerable to chance; it’s almost too easy to ruin them. “Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine were false. At most they were worth five hundred francs!” (128)| Mathilde’s just found and out that she and her husband have spent the last ten years suffering to replace a fake necklace not worth a fiftieth of what they thought. Mathilde could have avoided the whole situation if she’d only told Mme. Forestier about it and found out it was a fake. But she didn’t, and so all the suffering she and her husband have gone through was for nothing. Suffering becomes a whole lot worse if it seems meaningless.
Mathilde Loisel wants to be a glamour girl. She’s obsessed with glamour – with fancy, beautiful, expensive things, and the life that accompanies them. Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t born into a family with the money to make her dream possible. Instead, she gets married to a “little clerk” husband and lives with him in an apartment so shabby it brings tears to her eyes (1). Cooped up all day in the house with nothing to do but cry over the chintzy furniture and the fabulous life she’s not having, Mathilde hates her life, and probably her husband too. She weeps “all day long, from chagrin, from regret, from despair, and from distress” (6). She dreams day after day about escaping it all.