Were her dreams of wanting to live a rich and upper class lifestyle understandable or exaggerated?
Mathilde's dreams are both understandable and exaggerated. From an objective standpoint she is not really a sensational beauty. Maupassant makes it clear in the opening sentence that she belongs to a fairly common class of young women.
The girl was one of those pretty and charming young creatures who sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks.
She is one of many. She belongs to a type. But from her subjective point of view she is unique. It is common for young people of both sexes to have dreams of glory. Since they are only dreams, they can go as far as the dreamer likes. Mathilde is exceptional in being a talented dreamer.
She thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the stove. She thought of long reception halls hung with ancient silk, of the dainty cabinets containing priceless curiosities and of the little coquettish perfumed reception rooms made for chatting at five o'clock with intimate friends, with men famous and sought after, whom all women envy and whose attention they all desire.
Maupassant was a great admirer of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Here is a sample of what this pessimistic philosopher had to say on the subject.
Of course, as Schiller says, we are all born in Arcadia; in other words, we come into the world full of claims to happiness and pleasure and cherish the foolish hope of making them good.
Dreams such as those indulged in by young Mathilde Loisel were nourished by books and magazines--and they still are!. No doubt she was reading such literature before she was married and has continued to read it ever since. Maupassant seems to be setting up his story in such a way that there will be a stark contrast between her dreams before she loses the necklace and the reality she has to face afterwards. She not only loses the necklace, but she loses most of her illusions. Maupassant was a realist. He saw a sort of savage beauty in the harshness and disillusionment of reality. The lost diamond necklace was only worth thirty-six thousand francs because of the illusions about a few glittering stones. Sir Francis Bacon in his essay "On Riches" asks:
Do you not see what feigned prices, are set upon little stones and rarities . . . because there might seem to be some use of great riches?
In other words, there has to be material things with "feigned prices" in order to sustain the idea that great riches are important.
In our times there are many girls like Mathilde Loisel who are "pretty and charming." They are fortunate in having what every girl would like to have. But many are tempted by their gifts to leave Omaha and Grand Rapids and other such places to come to Hollywood and turn their dreams into reality. In fact, many of these aspiring starlets are actually encouraged to leave for Hollywood by flattering girlfriends who would like to eliminate them as competition for some of the better catches among the local boys. You can meet these girls waiting on tables in Beverly Hills and that general vicinity You can also see them talking to potential male customers through open car-windows on Sunset Blvd. Many of them may be wishing they had never left home. They have been out on dozens of auditions and have even gotten one or two non-speaking bit parts in movies or in television commercials.
John Steinbeck created such a girl full of dreams and illusions for his novelette Of Mice and Men. Curley's cute wife confides in Lennie.
"Coulda been in the movies, an' had nice clothes--all them nice clothes like they wear. An' I coulda sat in them big hotels, an' had pitchers took of me. When they had them previews I coulda went to them, an' spoke in the radio, an' it wouldn'ta cost me a cent because I was in the pither. An' all them nice clothes like they wear. Because this guy says I was a natural."
This is just before she is killed by Lennie in the barn.
It is certainly understandable that Mathilde Loisel could have had dreams that were exaggerated. Many young men and women indulge in such exaggerated dreams of glory without really having very much to go on. Mathilde did not lose her dreams completely, although she completely lost her charm and beauty. According to Maupassant:
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.