I am curious to what other students like me may think about this.
In other words, was Mme. Loisel her own downfall, or was her downfall brought about by society?
I think it's an interesting topic to discuss.
I believe that Maupassant had as much sympathy for the Loisels as O. Henry had for his principal characters, Della and Jim Young, in "The Gift of the Magi." All of these people are unfortunate because they don't have enough money. They have to suffer as a result. This is just reality. I don't feel that Mathilde deserved to be punished for wanting to have a little more pleasure and to be admired. I don't believe that Maupassant had that feeling when he wrote the story; otherwise his feeling would have come through and would infect the reader. Instead, I think the average reader would feel horrified, as I did, when the happy young woman discovered that she had lost the necklace. The story is a little weak right after this discovery. Why didn't she just go to her friend and tell her she had lost the necklace and offer to pay her for it over time? It would have been embarrassing, no doubt, but it must have been at least equally embarrassing to go around borrowing money from every relative, friend, and acquaintance. I don't think Maupassant was ever particularly interested in morality. He wrote another story titled (in English translation) "The False Jewels" in which a man discovers when his beautiful young wife dies of a sudden illness that her collection of what he always believed was fake jewelry was all genuine and worth a fortune. Obviously she had been receiving these ornaments as gifts from secret lovers. He sells the jewelry, quits his menial job, and begins to enjoy a life of leisure and luxury. Some people have good luck, some people have bad luck. That's life.
It's a tough question, actually, and more difficult then it appears at first. On the one hand, she equates money with happiness, and thus is a victim of her own value system.
On the other hand, she worked so hard so as not to offend her friend, which shows a certain type of loyalty that's not rewarded at all. Of course, part of it is just to save her own reputation, but at what cost?
Lastly, society truly does value her more when she looks fancy, so she's just playing a part that many others do as well. She realizes this, and there's nothing in the story to make her or us think differently about what value her greater society puts on appearances and money.
The irony of the jewels being fake teaches us a lesson about materialistic values, but the lesson Mathilde learns is something else. In this sense, she doesn't really get what she deserves because the only real lesson she learns is that she should have spoken up about what happened earlier.
I believe Mathilde got what was coming to her. She coveted material things, and did not appreciate what she did have. If wearing fancy clothes and jeweled necklaces defined what she thought she was, it is fitting that working herself into poverty for a necklace that was worthless certainly shows us what her character was worth.
You're right it is an interesting topic. Personally, I think it is a total cop-out to say that Mathilde's downfall was brought on as a product of her own society. She's a grown woman and she can take responsibility for her absolute pride (I draw this conclusion based on the fact that she was too proud to come forward with the truth). She got exactly what she deserved. Some people are that way- they learn every lesson the hard way and I imagine that Mathilde is one of those.