Is Mathilde Loisel justified in her misery in the story "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant?

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carol-davis's profile pic

carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” presents a woman who feels that she deserves more than the portion of life that has been given to her.  Mathilde Loisel is a pretty woman who will not allow herself to appreciate what she has. 

To Mathilde, everything that she has is not good enough. She looks around her and wishes that she had better furniture, clothes, and food.  She daydreams about having the things that she believes that she should have.

She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And these were the only things she loved; she felt that she was made for them. She had longed so eagerly to charm, to be desired, to be wildly attractive and sought after.

As an outsider looking at Mathilde’s life, what can the reader assess about her?  Mathilde sits around being miserable instead of appreciating the things that she does have: an apartment, a servant, her outward beauty, and a husband that would do anything for her.  Mathilde deserves her misery for focusing on the material aspect of life.

Her long-suffering husband is amazing.  He probably listened to her complaining about the insufficiency of her plight on a daily basis.  The reader does not learn much about him except that he does not abandon her even when she loses the necklace and must replace it thinking that it is of great value.

When her husband brings the invitation to the ball, he hopes it will make Mathilde happy. Instead, Mathilde immediately rejects the idea of the party.  As she tosses the invitation back to her husband, she whines about not having a dress to wear. 

Once again to please her, he gives up his extra money and buys her a gown.  This does not satisfy her because she has no jewelry to wear with her new dress.  The husband suggests that she borrow something from her friend Madame Forrestier. 

After losing the necklace that she borrowed, Mathilde and her husband spend the next ten years working and saving to pay back the loan incurred to buy another necklace for her friend. Mathilde loses everything: her beauty, her home, her servant.  The one thing that she does not lose is her husband.  Everyone should be so lucky as to have a quality man like Monsieur Loisel. 

Mathilde deserves her misery.  She did not deserve her husband who supported her throughout her mistakes.

Foolishly, she does not tell her friend the truth and suffers for it.  If she had been honest and told her friend about the lost necklace, none of this would have happened. Yet, Mathilde does do the right thing and works hard alongside her husband.  Did Mathilde learn a lesson? It is not clear about her attitude and how much she changed.  Probably, she would like to have back the miserable life that she had to give up.

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The first of Buddha's Four Noble Truths is:

Life from birth to death is filled with pain and suffering.

The second Noble Truth is:

Pain and suffering are caused by the desire for worldly things.

Mathilde Loisel is not too much different from most of us. We all want things we can't have. We make ourselves miserable by wanting something we haven't got. And very often when we manage to get something we wanted, we find that we are still not satisfied and want something else. So I would say that Mathilde Loisel is as justified in wanting to be admired as most of us are justified in wanting whatever it is we think will make us happy. She is human, like the rest of us. 

I am not a Buddhist, but those Noble Truths make very good sense to me. They made good sense to the German philosopher Schopenhauer too, and he had a very strong influence on Guy de Maupassant. Schopenhauer wrote that happiness is an illusion. The best we can ask from life is contentment and freedom from pain. In chasing after illusory happiness, Madame Loisel caused herself years of unhappiness for a few hours of dancing with men who would soon forget her. She created the same amount of unhappiness for her husband, too. 

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