What are the similarities and differences between Madame Mathilde Loisel of "The Necklace" and Della Young of "The Gift of the Magi"?

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Both Mathilde and Della are young, attractive women who occupy the lower-middle class and are married to relatively poor men. Mathilde and Della also experience economic issues and desire to attain wealth and financial stability.

Both women also find themselves in ironic situations. Mathilde discovers that she has wasted ten...

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Both Mathilde and Della are young, attractive women who occupy the lower-middle class and are married to relatively poor men. Mathilde and Della also experience economic issues and desire to attain wealth and financial stability.

Both women also find themselves in ironic situations. Mathilde discovers that she has wasted ten years of her life to pay back a worthless necklace that she initially thought was priceless, while Della discovers that her present for Jim is worthless because he sold his valuable watch. Money and material objects also play a significant role in their lives and affect the outcome of their different situations. Additionally, Mathilde and Della could also be described as foolish for different reasons.

Despite sharing several similarities, Mathilde and Della are completely different people. Mathilde is portrayed as a superficial, vain woman who is unhappily married and values appearances over inherent qualities. Mathilde fantasizes about enjoying a life of luxury and regrets marrying a lowly clerk. Nothing seems to please Mathilde, and her character is depicted in a negative light. In contrast, Della is portrayed as a thoughtful, selfless woman, who sacrifices her beautiful hair to purchase Jim a worthy gift. Unlike Mathilde, Della is a compassionate, sincere woman whose sacrifice reveals her love for Jim. Della also understands that happiness and joy are not contingent on material wealth.

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The similarities are few, but the differences many. Both women lead pretty ordinary lives and live in humble surroundings. Mathilde and her husband, though not dirt-poor like Jim and Della, still only just manage to get by. Della appears to be happy despite her poverty. Mathilde, on the other hand, seems to think she's made for better things. She's deeply dissatisfied with her lot and has a sense of entitlement that Della simply doesn't have. It's these delusions of grandeur that lead Mathilde to wear the fake necklace that will ultimately lead to her downfall and, ironically, to a life of poverty not dissimilar to Della's.

The respective value systems of the two women really couldn't be more different. Everything that Mathilde values is fake, shallow and fleeting, whether it's fancy clothes, jewelry or social status. What matters more than anything else to Mathilde is how she's seen by others, how she's perceived. Della also wants to be beautiful, but hers is a natural beauty, one that isn't put on or superficial. And in any case she shows that she's prepared to sacrifice that beauty by cutting her hair in order to buy Jim a Christmas present. It's difficult to imagine Mathilde doing anything quite so selfless. Della does this because she places more value in the love of her husband than anything else. The gift she buys Jim is an expression of that love; it isn't something to be valued for itself; it's simply a means to an end. With Mathilde, however, appearance is everything. And it's this innate shallowness that proves her undoing. In realizing that love is so much more important than bright, shiny objects, Della displays a wisdom that is simply way beyond Mathilde's grasp.

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While Mathilde Loisel and Della Young are both young, attractive women married to affectionate husbands, they are polar opposites in personalities.  For, Della Young of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" is an unselfish, loving wife who cherishes her husband whereas Madame Loisel of Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace" never considers anyone's feelings and desires other than her own. Here are a couple areas in which these two characters differ.

Economic Situation

Both young women bemoan their current economic status, but Della's regret is only that she does not have enough money with which to buy a Christmas present for her Jim:

Only one dollar and eighty-seven cents to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim.

 On the other hand, Mme. Loisel engages in self-pity because she cannot afford things for herself:

She grieved incessantly, feeling that she had been born for all the little niceties and luxuries of living.

After Della sells her hair and has twenty dollars with which to buy Jim's present, she is elated and satisfied because now she is able to purchase a Christmas gift for Jim. However, when Mme. Loisel is told by her husband that they are invited to an evening reception, she shows no gratitude; instead, she complains that she has nothing to wear.  Then, when Monsieur Loisel unselfishly offers her the money he has saved for a rifle, she expresses no appreciation; rather, she later complains that she has no jewel or gem to wear with the dress.

Values

It is apparent in "The Necklace" that Madame Loisel places material possessions above friendship and the love and faithfulness of her husband. Never in the story is there any indication that she shows gratitude for all the sacrifices of M. Loisel as they repaid the debt on the replacement necklace.  When Mme. Loisel encounters Mme Forestier, who has lent her the necklace, on the Champs-Elysees, she selfishly accuses her old friend of being responsible for her misfortunes,

"Yes, I've had a hard time since last seeing you.  And plenty of misfortunes--and all on account of you!" 

However, when Jim notices that Della has sacrificed her luxurious hair for his gift, Della does not bemoan her condition or blame him.  Instead, she begs him not to be angry and seeks to placate him by saying, "It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you?"  And, when they both discover that they have sold their prized possessions in order to purchase something for these same prized possessions, Jim and Della do not complain.

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It is because of her selfishness that Mathilde Loisel becomes an old and unhappy woman while Della is as rich in love as she was from the beginning of "The Gift of the Magi."  She and Jim are considered wise because they understand what is most valuable in life.  Mathilde Loisel is left with a wasted life because she placed her own pride and desires before all else.

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