Mathilde Loisel is the beautiful but disillusioned protagonist of Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Necklace." She lives in a middle class world with her husband, a clerk with the Department of Education, who provides her with the necessities of Parisian life, but Mathilde dreams of bigger things. She believes that she was destined for a life among the wealthy upper class, and this overwhelming desire has virtually consumed her.
She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs. All these things, which another woman of her caste would not even have noticed, tortured her and made her indignant.
Her unhappiness will be quenched by jewelry, fine clothing and extravagant meals, she believes, and her husband tries to appease her when possible. When he presents her with invitations to an important ball, she shows her disappointment because
“... Only I have no clothes, and in consequence I cannot go to this party. Give your card to some colleague whose wife has a better outfit than I.”
She convinces her husband to give her 400 francs for a new dress, and she decides to borrow an expensive necklace from her rich friend, Madame Forestier. At last, Mathilde would be able to present herself properly in society, if only for an evening. It was indeed a night to remember:
Mme. Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest of them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and mad with joy. All the men were looking at her, inquiring her name, asking to be introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wanted to dance with her. The Minister took notice of her. She danced with delight, with passion, intoxicated with pleasure, thinking of nothing, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness made up of all these tributes, of all the admirations, of all these awakened desires, of this victory so complete and so sweet to a woman’s heart.
But this night will become the apex of Mathilde's ascent to high society. Later that night, she discovers that she has lost the borrowed necklace. When it cannot be found, the husband borrows money to replace the necklace--valued at 36,000 francs--and the family undertakes a long decline into near poverty. The Loisels move into a cheaper apartment and save every cent they could earn. Mathilde fires her servant and resorted to doing all of the cleaning and housekeeping herself. She bargains with the grocer and street vendors for the cheapest prices and her clothing becomes old and worn. It takes the Loisels 10 years to pay off the cost of the necklace.
Mme. Loisel seemed aged now. She had become the robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household. Badly combed, with her skirts awry and her hands red, her voice was loud, and she washed the floor with splashing water.
She has completed the full cycle of social status.