The setting of Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace" is revealed slowly, though the author's use of details, rather than just being announced to us. We know that the story is set in France because the titles for each of the characters are French: Madame and Monsieur. Monsieur Loisel works for the Ministry of Education, which is not an American governmental organization, so it is clear from the beginning that the story is set in France.
The Loisels' living conditions are not clear to us because we see them primarily through the eyes of Mathilde, and she is miserably discontent with them.
She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains. All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and insulted her.
Clearly her house would be considered perfectly acceptable to others in the same financial position as the Loisels, but Mathilde sees everything as ugly and shabby. They sit down at a round table to eat, and when the tablecloth has not been washed for three days (she obviously sends her laundry to be done), she is discontent. Nothing satisfies her.
It is not until the end of the story, when all the things she used to have are gone, that we have a more complete picture of Mathilde's "terrible" former life compared to her current life of poverty.
Madame Loisel came to know the ghastly life of abject poverty. From the very first she played her part heroically. This fearful debt must be paid off. She would pay it. The servant was dismissed. They changed their flat; they took a garret under the roof.
Now she washes her own clothes and dishes, sweeps her own floors, and hauls water up to her attic apartment.
And, clad like a poor woman, she went to the fruiterer, to the grocer, to the butcher, a basket on her arm, haggling, insulted, fighting for every wretched halfpenny of her money.
Looking back, her previous life was not at all a poor one. The details of her second home and truly poverty-stricken life reveal that her other home and life were pretty good.