How is the story "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant ironic?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony in "The Necklace" is based on the fact that Madame Loisel and her husband spend ten years of toil and privation paying for a necklace which turns out to be a cheap imitation. The critical point in the story is reached when Madame Forestier tells Madame Loisel:

"Oh, my poor Mathilde! But mine was imitation. It was worth at the very most five hundred francs! . . . "

It is not only Mathilde Loisel who is shocked, but the reader as well. The reader as been led to believe that the borrowed necklace was genuine and that it was worth approximately 36,000 francs.

This type of irony is called situational irony. It involves an incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs. Irony is usually like a bad joke. It would be funny if it were not so painful. Mathilde paid a fearful price for the few moments of triumph she enjoyed at the Minister's ball. But no reader would feel like laughing at her and her poor husband. The reader feels pity for both. As Maupassant describes her towards the end of the story:

Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become the woman of impoverished households--strong and hard and rough. With frowsy hair, skirts askew and red hands, she talked loud while washing the floor with great swishes of water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat down near the window and she thought of that gay evening of long ago, of that ball where she had been so beautiful and so admired.

No doubt in addition to feeling mortified at the realization that she had wasted ten years of her life and sacrificed her beauty for a trifle, Mathilde Loisel must remember the night of the ball and wonder how many of the partners she danced with were aware that her necklace was nothing but an imitation. She is not only mortified about the present when her friend reveals the truth about the imitation necklace, but she must also feel mortified in retrospect at the realization that many of the important men and women must have known she was an imposter, not unlike Cinderella at the ball in the fairy tale.