Guy de Maupassant's 'The Necklace': Summary and Analysis

This short story is worth studying for themes of pride and deception

The Necklace
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"The Necklace" is a short story by 19th-century French author Guy de Maupassant, who is regarded as one of the early masters of the short story. It's often studied in English and world literature classes. Maupassant is known for writing about the travails of average people in French society and their efforts to get ahead, often with unhappy results. Here's a summary and analysis of "The Necklace."

Characters

The story centers on three characters: Mathilde Loisel, Monsieur Loisel, and Madame Forestier. Mathilde, the main character, is beautiful and social, and she wants expensive items to match her sophisticated taste. But she was born into a clerk's family and ends up marrying another clerk, so she can't afford the clothing, accessories, and household items that she wants, which makes her unhappy.

Monsieur Loisel, Mathilde's husband, is a man of simple pleasures who is happy with his life. He loves Mathilde and tries to mitigate her unhappiness by getting her an invitation to a fancy party. Madame Forestier is Mathilde's friend. She is wealthy, which makes Mathilde very jealous.

Summary

Monsieur Loisel presents Mathilde with an invitation to the Ministry of Education's formal party, which he expects will make Mathilde happy because she will be able to mingle with high society. Mathilde is immediately upset, however, because she doesn't have a gown that she believes is nice enough to wear to the event. 

Mathilde's tears sway Monsieur Loisel into offering to pay for a new dress despite their money being tight. Mathilde asks for 400 francs. Monsieur Loisel had planned to use the money he had saved on a gun for hunting but agrees to give the money to his wife. Near the date of the party, Mathilde decides to borrow jewelry from Madame Forestier. She picks a diamond necklace from her friend's jewelry box. 

Mathilde is the belle of the ball. When the night ends and the couple returns home, Mathilde is saddened by the humble state of her life compared with the fairy-tale party. This emotion quickly turns into panic as she realizes she has lost the necklace Madame Forestier lent her.

The Loisels search unsuccessfully for the necklace and ultimately decide to replace it without telling Madame Forestier that Mathilde lost the original. They find a similar necklace, but to afford it they go deeply into debt. For the next 10 years, the Loisels live in poverty. Monsieur Loisel works three jobs and Mathilde does heavy housework until their debts are repaid. But Mathilde's beauty has faded from a decade of hardship.

One day, Mathilde and Madame Forestier meet on the street. At first, Madame Forestier doesn't recognize Mathilde and is shocked when she realizes it is she. Mathilde explains to Madame Forestier that she lost the necklace, replaced it, and worked for 10 years to pay for the substitute. The story ends with Madame Forestier sadly telling Mathilde that the necklace she had lent her was fake and worth almost nothing.

Symbols

Given its central role in the short story, the necklace is an important symbol of deception. Mathilde had dressed for the party in expensive clothes and a sparkling but borrowed accessory to briefly escape her humble life by pretending to a station she did not hold.

Similarly, the jewelry represents the illusion of wealth in which Madame Forestier and the aristocratic class indulge. While Madame Forestier knew the jewels were fake, she did not tell Mathilde because she enjoyed the illusion of appearing wealthy and generous in lending a seemingly expensive item. People often admire the wealthy, aristocratic class, but sometimes their wealth is an illusion.

Theme

The short story's theme involves the pitfalls of pride. Mathilde's pride in her beauty prompts her to buy an expensive dress and borrow seemingly expensive jewelry, which triggers her downfall. She fed her pride for one night but paid for it over the next 10 years of hardship, which destroyed her beauty. Pride also prevented her friend from acknowledging initially that the necklace was a fake, which would have prevented Mathilde's downfall.