Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Necklace," published in 1881, is a short story—among
the finest surprise-ending stories in any language. It is a compact, neat
little package with just the right amount of character and plot development
and nary a wasted word. It is one of many of Maupassant’s short stories
that earned him recognition as a master of the genre.
action takes place in Paris, France, in the second half of the nineteenth
century. Specific locales include the residence of the Loisels, the home
of Madame Jeanne Forestier, the palace of the Ministry of Education, Paris
shops, and the streets of Paris, including the Rue des Martyrs and the
young woman born into a common, middle-class family. She yearns for the
wealth, privileges, and fashions of highborn young ladies.
Government clerk whom Mathilde marries.
Madame Jeanne Forestier:
Friend of Mathilde. She allows Mathilde to borrow a necklace to wear to
a gala social event.
Housemaid: Girl from
Brittany who does the Loisels' housework. Her presence reminds Mathilde
of her own status as a commoner.
Jeweler: Dealer who
provides a replacement necklace.
Monsieur and Madame Georges
Rampouneau: Minister of Education and his wife, who invite the Loisels
to a party.
Child With Madame Forestier:
See number 5 under "Unanswered Questions" for information about this character.
Michael J. Cummings...©
though Mathilde is pretty and quite charming, she has none of the advantages
of upper-class girls: a dowry, a distinguished family name, an entree into
society, and all the little fineries that women covet. Consequently, she
accepts a match made for her with a clerk, Monsieur Loisel, in the Department
home is common and plain, with well-worn furniture. The young girl from
Brittany who does the housework is a constant reminder to Mathilde of her
own status as a commoner. But she dreams of having more: tapestries, bronze
lamps, footmen to serve her, parlors with silk fabrics, perfumed rooms,
silver dinnerware, exotic food, jewelry, the latest fashions.
evening, her husband presents her an envelope containing a special surprise.
He is sure it will please her. Inside the envelope she finds a card inviting
her and her husband to a social affair as guests of the Minister of Education,
Georges Rampouneau, and his wife at the palace of the Ministry of Education.
Mathilde is not at all pleased, for she has nothing to wear. When her husband
asks her what it would cost to buy her suitable attire, she says four hundred
francs—the exact amount he has set aside to
buy a gun to shoot larks at Nanterre with friends. However, he agrees to
provide the money, and she buys a gown. When the day of the fête
draws near, Loisel notices that Mathilde is downcast and inquires into
the cause of her low spirits. She tells him she has no jewels to wear.
As a result, others at the party will look down on her. But her spirits
brighten when Monsieur Loisel suggests that she borrow jewels from her
friend, Madame Jeanne Forestier.
no time, Mathilde visits her friend the following day. Madame Forestier,
only too willing to cooperate, opens a box and tells Mathilde to choose.
Inside are glittering jewels. Mathilde selects a diamond necklace so beautiful
that it quickens her heartbeat.
the party, Mathilde is the center of attention. Handsome men of high station
ask who she is and line up to dance with her. Not until 4 a.m. do the Loisels
leave the palace. On their way out, Mathilde’s husband puts a wrap on her
shoulders—an article of clothing from her
everyday wardrobe. To avoid being seen in it, she hurries out against her
husband’s wishes. He wants to wait for a cab to arrive. Out in the cold,
they search for transportation, wandering toward the Seine. In time, they
find a cab, and it takes them to their home on Rue des Martyrs. In her
bedroom, Mathilde stands before a mirror and removes her wrap to gaze upon
the woman who has enchanted so many men. Then she notices to her horror
that the necklace is missing. She and her husband search through their
belongings but cannot find it. After they conclude that the necklace must
have come off on their way home, Monsieur Loisel goes out to search for
the cab they rode in. He returns at 7 a.m. after failing to find it. Visits
to the police and the cab company, as well as other measures, also leave
her husband’s suggestion, Mathilde writes to Madame Forestier, telling
her that the necklace clasp has broken and that it is being repaired. This
ploy will buy time. Next, they decide that their only recourse is to replace
the necklace. Going from jeweler to jeweler, they search for a facsimile.
They find one in a shop in the Palais Royal. The price: 36,000 francs.
To raise the money, Loisel uses all of his savings and borrows the rest,
writing promissory notes and signing his name on numerous documents. Then
the Loisels buy the replacement, and Mathilde takes it in a case to Madame
Forestier. The latter expresses annoyance that it was returned late, then
takes the case without opening it to check its contents.
the Loisels scrimp and save to pay their debt. After they dismiss their
housemaid, Mathilde does the work herself, washing dishes and linen, taking
out the garbage, and performing other menial labors. She also wears common
clothes and haggles at the market. Monsieur Loisel moonlights as a bookkeeper
years later, they are out of debt. They have paid back every borrowed franc
and sou. By this time, Mathilde is fully a commoner, with rough hands,
plain clothes, and disheveled hair. And she looks older than her years.
Occasionally, she thinks back to the day when she wore the necklace and
when so many men admired her. What would have happened if she had never
lost the necklace?
Sunday on the Champs Elysées, she encounters Madame Forestier walking
with a child. When Mathilde addresses her, her friend does not recognize
her—so haggard does Mathilde look. After Mathilde
identifies herself, she decides to tell Madame Forestier everything. What
could be the harm? After all, she has paid for the necklace, working ten
long years at honest, humble labor to fulfill her obligation. Madame Forestier
then holds Mathilde’s hands and says, “Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine was
false. At most, it was worth five hundred francs!"
"The Necklace," Maupassant makes every word count, each one contributing
to the overall effectiveness of the story. He provides only minimal details
to further the plot and describe the important characters. The result is
a simple, easy-to-understand story that moves smoothly and swiftly from
beginning to end. Details that he leaves out allow the reader to interpret
the events and the characters in his or her own way. One may compare "The
Necklace" to a painting with subtle shades of meaning. Maupassant himself
remains aloof from his characters, passing no judgments on them, neither
praising nor condemning them. For example, it is up to the reader to decide
whether Mathilde is a victim of bad luck (or fate) or of her own warped
perception of the world as a place where success and recognition result
from wealth and status.
vs Free Will
Mathilde a hapless victim of fate or a victim of her own desires and the
choices she makes to fulfill them? In the opening sentence of the story,
Maupassant introduces the notion of fate as a controlling force:
C'était une de ces jolies et charmantes filles, nées, comme
par une erreur du destin, dans une famille d'employés.
He expands on this idea when
Mathilde borrows a necklace of imitation diamonds in the mistaken belief
that they are real. Finally, comes the coup de grâce: She loses the
necklace and replaces it with a lookalike necklace made of genuine diamonds.
She and her husband work ten years to pay for it only to discover
that the original necklace was fake in the first place. All of these developments
suggest that Mathilde is the plaything of fate. However, Maupassant also
points out early on that Mathilde longed to live like the highborn. Fashionable
clothes, jewels, a home with spacious rooms and tapestries—all
were badges of success, according to Mathilde's distorted view of the world.
In further developing this idea—that it was
perhaps Mathilde's own yearnings, not fate, that got her into trouble,
the narrator says,
She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born, by a mistake of destiny,
into a family of employees (common middle-class workers).
Elle eût tant désiré plaire, être enviée,
être séduisante et recherchée.
In the end, the reader is left
to decide for himself whether Mathilde's downfall was of her own making
or fate's—or a combination of both.
She had so much desire to please, to be envied, to be enticing, to be sought
Translations by M.J. Cummings
climax of a literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined
as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself
for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series
of events. The climax of "The Necklace" occurs, according to the first
definition, when Mathilde discovers that she has lost the necklace. According
to the second definition, the climax occurs at the end of the story, when
Madame Forestier informs Mathilde that the lost necklace was a fake. .
should evaluate themselves and others on who they are intrinsically (that
is, on their character and moral fiber), not on what they possess or where
they stand in society. Mathilde Loisel learns this lesson the hard way.
humility, and hard work are what shape character, not the clothes or jewels
that a person wears or the high station into which he or she is born.
Appearances Are Deceiving
Loisel believed the necklace genuine the moment she saw it. Likewise, she
believed that all the people at the party were real, genuine human beings
because of their social standing and their possessions. The necklace, of
course, was a fake. And, Maupassant implies, so were the people at the
party who judge Mathilde on her outward appearance.
paying off her debt, Mathilde wonders what her life would have been like
if she had not lost the necklace. The narrator does not suggest an answer
to this question. What do you think would have happened to her?
think Madame Forestier will sell the diamond necklace and return the Loisels'
Forestier does return the money, will Mathilde save her share of it? Or
will she spend it to fulfill her old longings?
her husband do with his portion of the money?
end of the story, the narrator tells us that Madame Forestier is walking
with a small child? Why does Maupassant introduce a new character, about
whom he tells the reader nothing, at this point in the story? Is it possible
that the child is supposed is to represent a new generation of Parisians
who will go on pursuing false values? Or does the child's presence at the
end suggest something else?
an essay that attempts to answer the first or fourth question under "Unanswered
Questions." Support your position with logical reasoning and opinions gleaned
an essay arguing for or against the view that Mathilde's yearning for wealth
and social status, not fate, brought about her downfall.
informative essay, discuss to what extent French society in the nineteenth
century imposed limitations on Mathilde's opportunities to earn money and
attain social standing.
why "The Necklace" continues to enjoy widespread popularity with modern
the role of a psychologist. Then write a psychological profile of Mathilde.
the men at the party admire Mathilde if they were aware that the necklace
was fake and that she had few material possessions? Provide your answer
in an essay supported by relevant passages from the story, as well as other