The Necklace Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Necklace

Mathilde Loisel is attractive and pretty, but unhappy, very unhappy. She believes that life has played her false. She feels relegated to a lower station than she deserves. She wanted to be appreciated and loved by some rich gentleman from a good family, but instead, having no dowry, she had to settle for a junior clerk in the Ministry of Public Instruction. Her existence is one of constant frustration. She hates her plain apartment, its absence of pictures on the walls, its shoddy furniture. Even the sight of her maid, doing housework, fills her with hopeless regrets and provokes flights of fancy about more opulent surroundings. Though other women of her class may come to terms with their station in life, Mathilde never can.

She is so humiliated by her lower-middle-class existence that she even refuses to see one of her old friends whom she has known from her days at the convent school. Madame Forestier is wealthy, and Mathilde finds visits to her too painful to bear; so, she spends her days hanging around her drab flat, sometimes crying the entire time, overcome with worry, regret, desperation, and distress.

Her husband, on the other hand, seems better adjusted. He does not notice that the tablecloth has been in use for three days. When he is served a simple casserole, he can exclaim with pleasure: “Well, a good hot-pot. I don’t know anything better than that.” One day, he comes home from his office with an invitation to a party that is being given by his superior, the minister of public instruction. Instead of greeting the news with delight, Mathilde throws the invitation down on the table, saying that it is no good to her, because she has nothing suitable to wear for such an occasion. Her husband tries to convince her that it was very difficult for a junior clerk to get asked to such an event. “You will see the whole world of officialdom there,” he says, suggesting that she wear that good-looking dress she once wore to the theater. She refuses and tells him to give the invitation to a colleague whose wife is better turned out than she.

Monsieur Loisel tries another tack. He asks her how much it would cost to get a proper dress. She thinks it over, trying to estimate what an old pinchpenny like him would be willing to spend. She decides on the sum of four hundred francs that, as it happens, is exactly the amount that he has put away to buy himself a gun so he could join some friends who go Sunday lark-shooting on the Nanterre flatlands. He is not happy to forgo his pleasure but agrees.

An appropriate dress is ordered and is ready before the date of the dance. Mathilde, however, is still depressed. Now she complains that she does not have any jewelry to wear with it. Her husband suggests flowers. She is unimpressed. He then suggests that she go to her rich friend Madame Forestier and borrow some jewelry. His wife thinks it a good idea and the next day goes and explains the situation to her. Madame Forestier is more than willing to comply and goes to a wardrobe to get a large jewelry casket. She tells Mathilde to take what she likes.

Such an embarrassment of riches makes it difficult for Mathilde to make up her mind. She asks to see something else. Suddenly, she discovers a black satin case that contains a magnificent necklace, “a river of diamonds.” With tremulous voice she asks if she may borrow this item. “But yes, certainly,” says her friend. Mathilde throws her arms around her friend’s neck, and then joyously hurries home with her treasure.

At the minister’s party, Mathilde scores a success. She appears to be the prettiest woman in the room; all men’s eyes are on her. Even the minister notices her. She dances throughout the night, leaving her exhausted husband dozing in a small drawing room with three other husbands whose wives are also enjoying themselves. When the party breaks up at four o’clock, Mathilde wants to get away as fast as possible because she does not want the other women, who all wear furs, to notice her plain cloth coat. She runs out to the street hoping to find a cab, but the search takes her down to the Seine where, at last, she and her husband find an old dilapidated brougham stationed along the embankment. The ride back to their dismal apartment is sad for Mathilde with her fresh memories of her triumph.

Once home, as she is taking off her wraps, she discovers that the necklace is no longer around her neck. They search her clothes: nothing. Her husband goes out and retraces their path home. He returns several hours later having found nothing. The next day, he goes to the police and files a report. He then advertises in the lost-and-found in the papers, but still, nothing. To give them time to continue the search, they tell Madame Forestier that the clasp on the necklace is being repaired. After five days, however, when nothing shows up, they decide that the necklace is truly gone and they must have it replaced.

They take the necklace case from jeweler to jeweler to find a strand of diamonds that matches the one lost. They finally see one in a shop at the Palais-Royal. The price, with a four-thousand-franc discount, is thirty-six thousand francs. The Loisels pay for it with an eighteen-thousand-franc inheritance that the husband has received from his father, and by borrowing the rest in small amounts, thereby mortgaging their lives for the next decade. The replacement necklace is returned to Madame Forestier, who remarks rather coldly that it should have been returned sooner because she might have needed it. She does not bother to open the case.

The Loisels are left with their debts. They get rid of their maid. They move to a poorer apartment. The wife now has to do all the menial work herself: wash the sheets, carry garbage down to the street, carry up the water, do her own shopping, bargaining with everybody to save a few sous. The husband moonlights, working in the evenings for a bookkeeper and often at nights, doing copying at twenty-five centimes a page. This goes on year after year until the debt is paid. The time of penury has transformed Mathilde into a poor, prematurely old hag, with a loud voice, red hands, and neglected hair, but in her misery she often remembers the minister’s ball, where she had her great success. What, she asks herself, would have been her fortune had she not lost the necklace?

One Sunday, as she strolls along the Champs-Elysees, she sees Madame Forestier taking a child for a walk. Jeanne Forestier is still young-looking and attractive. Now that the debt for the necklace has been satisfied, Mathilde Loisel decides to tell her old friend everything that happened. She stops to speak to her but is not recognized until she introduces herself. She explains that life has been pretty grim. She tells her about the lost necklace, how she had it replaced and for the past ten years has been slaving to pay for it. She is relieved that the long ordeal is over, and naïvely proud that her friend never knew that a different necklace had been returned to her.

Madame Forestier is deeply touched. Taking both of her friend’s hands she says, “Oh! My poor Mathilde! But mine was a fake. It was worth no more than five hundred francs!”

The Necklace Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Mathilde Loisel is miserable as the wife of a middle-class Parisian clerk. She suffers constantly from what she views as a life of poverty. Although her husband’s income from his position as a clerk at the Ministry of Public Instructions sufficiently meets the couple’s needs, Mathilde dreams of attending the local salons, which host intimate gatherings of the upper class. She assumes airs at the dinner table, fantasizing that she is eating a higher quality of food and imagining herself dining with the wealthy. Mathilde focuses on her lack of jewels and fine clothing rather than on enjoying her life. She is jealous of one acquaintance in particular with whom she attended convent school, Madame Forestier, who has made a good marriage to a wealthy man.

Thinking Mathilde will be pleased, Monsieur Loisel brings her an invitation to a ball at the Palace of the Ministry. Mathilde surprises him by throwing down the invitation. Because Mathilde lacks a beautiful gown and jewels, she does not feel she can attend the ball. Monsieur Loisel reluctantly agrees to finance the purchase of a four-hundred-franc gown, understanding that he must sacrifice a planned hunting vacation with friends to do so. Mathilde buys the dress but complains that she has no jewels. Monsieur Loisel suggests that she visit her friend Madame Forestier and ask to borrow some jewelry. For once, Mathilde is pleased by a suggestion made by her husband.

Madame Forestier offers Mathilde the choice of her jewels. Mathilde selects a superb diamond necklace from a black satin box. She feels euphoric when she tries it on. When Madame Forestier immediately agrees to let her borrow the necklace, Mathilde kisses her in gratitude.

At the ball, Mathilde’s beauty attracts much attention. She is ecstatic when many men ask her name. She dances with all of the attachés from the cabinet and is even noticed by the minister. Intoxicated with pleasure and passion, Mathilde exists for a time in a fantasy haze. She believes she has at last succeeded in her quest to excel in high society.

Monsieur Loisel finds a room in which to sleep while Mathilde enjoys dancing and socializing. At 4:00 a.m., she is ready to leave. As Monsieur Loisel places her everyday wrap over his wife’s shoulders, it contrasts so much with her beautiful gown that she hurries to depart before the other women notice. Although Monsieur Loisel asks her to wait inside and avoid the cold as he calls a cab, she races down the stairs. They fail to hail a cab and walk miserably in the cold until they find an enclosed carriage, the transportation mode of the middle class, in which to ride.

The Loisels arrive home at the Rue des Martyrs, and Mathilde pauses to enjoy her reflection in the mirror. She screams when she sees that the necklace is missing. She and Monsieur Loisel search frantically, but they cannot find the necklace. Monsieur Loisel volunteers to walk back to the ball’s location, searching as he goes. He returns home exhausted and without the necklace. At his instruction, Mathilde writes a letter to Madame Forestier, explaining she will delay in returning the necklace. She lies, claiming that its clasp broke so she is having it repaired. This ruse allows them time to continue the search.

When the Loisels are unable to find the necklace, they use its jewel box to search for a jeweler from whom it might have been purchased. They discover the value of the necklace to be forty thousand francs; a jeweler offers to sell them a duplicate for thirty-six thousand francs. They buy the necklace using Monsieur Loisel’s inheritance of eighteen thousand francs and borrowing the balance, imperiling their future security. Still hopeful of finding the necklace, they secure a promise from the jeweler to buy back the duplicate for thirty-four thousand francs if they return it within three months. However, they do not find the necklace, and they assume crippling debt that forever changes their lives. Monsieur Loisel anticipates a “black misery” that will befall them as a result not only of future physical sacrifice but also of “moral tortures.”

When Mathilde takes the newly purchased necklace to Madame Forestier, she fears her acquaintance will discover that the necklace is a replacement. Her greatest concern is that her friend would consider her a thief. Although Madame Forestier scolds Mathilde for delaying the necklace’s return, she never opens the case to inspect it.

The next years are torturous for Mathilde, who works like a servant, her own servant having been dismissed. The Loisels move to poor housing. Mathilde dresses in work clothing suiting her position and assumes all the family’s “odious” housekeeping duties. Monsieur Loisel works a second job at night. They work for ten years to repay their debts. The strain of deprivation exacts a toll, and Mathilde ages rapidly. Occasionally, she fantasizes, remembering the wonders of the ball. Finally, their debt is paid in full.

One day on the street, Mathilde meets Madame Forestier, still youthful and lovely. At first not recognizing Mathilde, Madam Forestier is shocked by her friend’s haggard appearance. She cries out with sympathy over Mathilde’s transformation. Mathilde explains that her life has been hard because of Madame Forestier. Mathilde shares the truth regarding her loss and replacement of the necklace that she had borrowed. She explains it was purchased with ten years of hard labor. She proudly describes how she met her obligation both to Madame Forestier and to society.

Madame Forestier takes Mathilde’s hands in her own and tells her the truth. The necklace that she had loaned Mathilde was mere costume jewelry worth only five hundred francs.

The Necklace Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What makes Maupassant’s famous story “The Necklace” so popular is not merely the ironic shock that the reader feels at the end when Madame Loisel discovers that she has worked long and hard to pay for a worthless bit of paste, but rather the more pervasive irony that underlies the entire story and makes it a classic exploration on the difference between surface flash and hidden value.

The story begins with a pretty young girl who thinks she is really a lady and feels that she needs only the external trappings of her true status. Although she is married to a simple clerk, she acts as though she has fallen from her proper station; she feels that she was born for luxuries but must endure poverty. Determined to make the best of an opportunity when she and her husband are invited to an elegant party, she borrows a necklace from an acquaintance to impress those not easily impressed and, like Cinderella at the ball, has all of her desires fulfilled as she is transported into the fairy-tale world about which she has dreamed. All of this comes crashing down to reality, however, when she reaches home and discovers that the necklace is missing. Her husband exhausts his meager inheritance and then borrows the rest, mortgaging their life away to buy a replacement for the necklace.

Now that Madame Loisel knows true poverty, she shows herself to be made of something more valuable than her petty desires for surface flash have suggested. With heroism and pride, she shoulders her responsibility with her husband and for ten years does brutal manual labor until she has paid for the necklace. When the reader discovers that the necklace was made of paste, it is a momentary shock; on closer reflection, this final knowledge proves to be anticlimactic, for one realizes that the story is about deeper ironies. What was taken to be real is found to be false. What looked rich on the outside is actually very poor. Yet Madame Loisel, who has looked poor on the outside, turns out to be genuine inside. “The Necklace” is a classic example of the tight ironic structure of the short story in which the unified tone dominates every single word.

The Necklace Overview

A young, pretty woman from a family of clerks marries a petty clerk in the office of the Board of Education in Paris. She feels keenly the...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

The Necklace Summary

‘‘The Necklace’’ begins with a description of Madame Mathilde Loisel. Though she is ‘‘pretty and charming,’’ she and her...

(The entire section is 348 words.)