Mme. Loisel is chronically unhappy and dissatisfied because she is married to a humble government clerk and feels that with her beauty and charm she should be enjoying a life of luxury and social distinction. Maupassant describes both her feelings and her circumstances early in his story. The following excerpt combines descriptions of her feelings and circumstances.
Mathilde suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born to enjoy all delicacies and all luxuries. She was distressed at the poverty of her dwelling, at the bareness of the walls, at the shabby chairs, the ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made her angry.
Mathilde is also unhappy in her marriage because she obviously does not love her husband. He cannot share her desires for delicacies and luxuries, and he does not seem troubled by their low standard of living, because he cannot afford anything better and has never known anything better.
When she sat down to dinner, before the round table covered with a tablecloth in use three days, opposite her husband, who uncovered the soup tureen and declared with a delighted air, "Ah, the good soup! I don't know anything better than that," she thought of dainty dinners, of shining silverware, of tapestry that peopled the walls with ancient personages and with strange birds flying in the midst of a fairy forest; and she thought of delicious dishes served on marvellous plates and of the whispered gallantries to which you listen with a sphinxlike smile while you are eating the pink meat of a trout or the wings of a quail.
The invitation to the minister's ball gives Mathilde Loisel a tiny window of opportunity to enjoy the kind of life she is always dreaming of. It seems probably that her grand success would have only made her normal life more onerous if she hadn't lost the borrowed necklace. She might have waited years for another such opportunity to display her beauty and vivacity--and by that time, of course, some of it would have faded. But losing the necklace makes her abandon her dream world and face harsh reality. Mathilde Loisel's change of character is the most moving part of Maupassant's famous story, which seems to draw an ironic contrast with the fairy tale of Cinderella. Mathilde toils for years to help her husband pay for that cursed necklace. She displays great strength of character, a trait which was not in the least apparent in her before she lost the necklace. She grows old prematurely and loses every trace of her former beauty. Maupassant describes her in her later life as "a woman of the people." She becomes coarse and tough. We can imagine her as resembling those women who took such an active part in the French Revolution.
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.