What is the conflict of the short story "The Necklace"?

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There are two primary conflicts in Guy De Maupassant's short story "The Necklace," which are the individual versus the self and the individual versus society. Mathilde Loisel's internal and external conflicts stem from her social status, her feelings of inadequacy, and society's expectations. Mathilde Loisel believes that she should occupy a higher social class and is ashamed that she is considered middle-class after marrying a humble clerk. Mathilde Loisel is unhappy with her life and continually dreams about living in a palace and owning expensive items.

Mathilde experiences feelings of inferiority and inadequacy because of her social status and does not believe that she can meet the expectations of upper-class society when she attends the ball at the Ministry of Public Education. Mathilde believes that members of the upper-class will view her with contempt when they judge her clothing, accessories, and overall appearance. The French aristocracy in the late-1800s was particularly superficial, and Mathilde experienced pressure to impress the wealthy citizens at the ball.

Mathilde's low self-esteem and superficiality motivate her to visit Madame Forestier. Mathilde proceeds to borrow Madame Forestier's presumably expensive necklace because she believes that it will help her meet the expectations of the upper-class and please her insatiable desire to wear expensive items. The necklace also makes Mathilde feel worthy and content.

Unfortunately, Mathilde encounters another conflict when she loses the necklace. Mathilde and her husband incorrectly assume that the diamond necklace was genuine and almost bankrupt themselves by purchasing an authentic look-alike. Mathilde and her husband struggle for ten years to pay off their debts only to discover that Madame Forestier's necklace was an inexpensive imitation.

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The conflict is that Mathilde loses the necklace and has to give up the one thing she has to give it back.

A conflict is, simply put, a struggle between opposing forces.  Conflicts can internal or external.  An internal conflict is between a character and his or her self, and usually involves a tough decision or fear.  An external conflict is between a character and an outside force, such as another character, society, nature, or technology or the supernatural.

In “The Necklace” Mathilde does not have much money, but she has great beauty.  She always wishes for her money to match her beauty, but she does not marry high enough in society to accomplish this.  One day she borrows a necklace from a wealthier friend to attend a society ball, and promptly loses it.

Thus enters the main conflict of the story.  Mathilde must decide if she should tell her friend she lost of the necklace, of course, but it never occurs to her.  Her pride forbids it.  So she and her husband borrow money to replace the expensive necklace, and work it off.

Thereafter Madame Loisel knew the horrible existence of the needy. She bore her part, however, with sudden heroism. That dreadful debt must be paid. She would pay it.

For ten years, they continued this way, and Mathilde grew older and less beautiful.  She struggled with the consequences of poverty, but it was an internal struggle.  It was a struggle of guilt and shame, not because of losing the necklace, but because she never had the money to replace it.

In the end, Mathilde’s struggle turns out to be an ironic one.  The necklace she replaced the lost one with was real, but the lost one was fake.  Madame Loisel, her friend had no idea of what Mathilde went through.  If Mathilde had not had such pride, she would not have had to struggle at all.  In struggling, she lost everything she had to be proud of.  Such is the irony.

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