In "The Necklace," why do you think Mathilde Loisel acts and thinks the way she does, as far as her status in life is concerned?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is not at all uncommon in the present day to see some young women who are strikingly beautiful, graceful, and charming working in coffee houses and fast-food places. The thought often occurs to us that these beauties could be movie stars or married to millionaires if only they had the opportunities. They need some professional advice about their hair, clothes, cosmetics, and other such things. They need wise friends.

But most have been born into humble families and are handicapped by ignorance and lack of connections. Most have never been to college. They have had to go to work at minimum-wage jobs where they will meet young men of comparable social status and education. They will almost certainly get married because they are so desirable, but they will marry men just as socially, educationally, and financially handicapped as themselves. Then they will have one, two, or three babies, and their priceless natural beauty will fade while their bodies become flabby with age and childbirth. They bring to mind the famous poem by Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which contains this poignant stanza:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Guy de Maupassant was gifted with a marvelous imagination. He wrote nearly four hundred short stories, and many of these were obviously inspired by nothing more than a setting, or a mood, or a face in the crowd. Mathilde Loisel is a representative of all the beautiful but socially and financially handicapped young women of her time. They lacked even the opportunities to go out into the working world. In 1884, the only feasible career for a woman such as Mathilde was marriage.

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 had no dowry, no expectations, no way of being known, understood, loved, married by any rich and distinguished man; so she let herself be married to a little clerk of the Ministry of Public Instruction.

Mathilde acts and thinks the way she does because she is blessed and cursed with exceptional beauty. Her poor husband does the best he can to please her, but he just can't afford the kind of lifestyle she believes she deserves. When she tells him she could buy a suitable gown for the Minister's ball for four hundred francs,

He grew a little pale, because he was laying aside just that amount to buy a gun and treat himself to a little shooting next summer on the plain of Nanterre, with several friends who went to shoot larks there of a Sunday.

Mathilde is not really so vain and selfish. She is quite realistic in believing that she could move in the highest French society and meet the most distinguished men and women in the land if only she had had the opportunities that women like her friend Madame Jeanne Forestier had been born with.

Maupassant contrasts these two women, showing that Mme. Forestier is probably inferior to Mme. Loisel in looks, charm, wit and imagination. One was lucky, the other was not. In fact, Maupassant's whole story is about luck. Mathilde has the horribly bad luck to lose the necklace she thinks is so valuable, and it costs her her beauty. It was bad luck for her to choose the one piece of jewelry in Mme. Forestier's collection that was a fake. It was almost as if Fate were guiding her hand to pick that gaudy necklace.

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The Necklace

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