'The Necklace': Summary and Analysis

This Heart-wrenching Short Story by Guy de Maupassant is Worth Studying

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"The Necklace" is a short story by Guy de Maupassant often studied in English or world literature classes. Maupassant infused the story with heartache. 

Here is a summary and analysis of "The Necklace."

Characters

The story centers around 3 characters: Mathilde Loisel, Monsieur Loisel and Madame Forestier.

Mathilde is the main character. She is physically beautiful and social, and she wants expensive items to match her beauty and sophisticated taste.

But she is born into a clerk's family and ends up marrying a clerk too. Due to life circumstances, she cannot afford the materialistic clothing, accessories and household items that she wants which she is unhappy about.

Monsier Loisel is Mathilde's husband. He is a simple man of simple pleasures who is happy with his life. He loves Mathilde a lot and tries to mitigate her unhappiness by getting her a ticket to a fancy party.

Madame Forestier is Mathilde's friend, of whom Mathilde is also very jealous of because she is wealthy. 

Summary

Monsier Loisel presents Mathilde with an invitation to the Ministry of Education's formal party, which he expects Mathilde will be excited about because then she can dress up and mingle with high society. On the contrary, Mathilde is immediately upset because she doesn't have a gown that she believes is nice enough to wear to this sort of event. 

Mathilde's tears sway Monsier Loisel into buying a new dress for her despite money being tight.

Mathilde asks for 400 francs. Monsier Loisel was planning on using 400 francs he saved up on a gun for himself, but agrees to give the money to his wife. Near the date of the party, Mathilde also decides to borrow jewelry from Madame Forestier. She picks a diamond necklace from Madame Forestier's jewelry box.

 

The party goes well for Mathilde, who is the belle of the ball. When the night comes to an end and the couple returns home, Mathilde is saddened by the humble state of her life compared to the fairy-tale party she was just at. But this emotion quickly turns into panic as she realizes she lost the diamond necklace Madame Forestier lent her.

The Loisels search for the necklace but cannot find it, and ultimately decide to replace it without telling Madame Forestier that Mathilde lost the original one. They find a similar looking necklace, and in order to afford it they take out loans and go into debt.

For the next 10 years, the Loisels live in poverty. Monsier Loisel works 3 jobs and Mathilde does heavy housework until their debts are paid off. In the process, Mathilde's beauty has turned into a haggard face tired from a decade of hardship.

One day, Mathilde and Madame Forestier run into each other on the street. At first, Madame Forestier does not recognize Mathilde, and then is shocked when she realizes it is her. Mathilde finally explains to Madame Forestier that she lost the necklace, replaced it and worked for 10 years to afford the replacement. The story ends with Madame Forestier distraughtly telling Mathilde that the necklace she gave her was fake and worth almost nothing.

Symbols

Given its central role throughout the story, the necklace is an important symbol. The fake diamond necklace represents deception. During the night of the party, Mathilde dressed up in expensive clothes, sparking accessories and escaped her more humble life. She was pretending to lead a life that she did not have.

Similarly, the necklace represents the illusion of wealth that Madame Forestier, and the aristocratic class in general, indulge in. While Madame Forestier knew the jewels were fake, she did not tell Mathilde because she enjoyed giving off the illusion of generously lending an expensive item and seeming wealthy. People often admire the wealthy, aristocratic class, but are people in awe of the actual money they have in their pockets or the illusion of being affluent they want others to believe?

In the end, appearances are deceiving.

Themes

Another theme of the story is to be weary of pride. Mathilde's pride in her beauty is what prompted her to greedily buy an expensive dress and borrow seemingly expsensive jewelry. But it is this exact pride that brought her downfall. She satiated her pride during that one party, but paid for it with her beauty as the next 10 years of hardship took away what she once treasured.