What is the main conflict of "The Necklace"?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the main external conflicts in the story is between Madame Loisel's and her husband's values. On the whole, Monsieur Loisel seems perfectly happy with life. He may only be a humble functionary at the Ministry of Education, but as he's none too ambitious, he appears satisfied with his career as a civil servant. And with the modest salary he earns, he's still able to provide a fairly decent standard of living for himself and his wife. The Loisels may not be rich, but they're still able to afford to hire a servant so they can't be too badly off.

Mathilde, on the other hand, is profoundly dissatisfied with her humdrum, middle-class existence. She genuinely believes she has noble blood; and as far as she's concerned, this entitles her to better things. That's why the necklace, and all it symbolizes, takes on such great significance for her. It isn't just a piece of fancy jewelry; it's an entry into a rarefied world of wealth, opulence, and glamor. Mathilde's values are thoroughly shallow and materialistic. She will only ever feel satisfied if she has fine clothes and jewelry to wear and becomes the toast of high society.

Contrast this with her husband's uncomplaining acceptance of a more modest lifestyle. The Loisels' respective value systems are in complete conflict, and this conflict cannot be resolved without one or the other being disabused of their notions of what really matters in life.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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After Madame Loisel discovers that she has lost the diamond necklace that she has borrowed, she is faced with a decision: Does she tell her wealthy friend, Madame Forestier, that she has lost the necklace and risk humiliation and the loss of the woman's friendship? Or does she try to replace it on her own and keep the loss of the original necklace a secret from her friend? The Loisels decide on the latter choice. They borrow money in any way they can, in many cases with large interest rates, and buy what appears to be an identical diamond necklace. When Madame Loisel returns it to Madame Forestier, the owner does not recognize the difference. Madame Loisel's secret is safe, but she and her husband have to scrimp and save for years in order to pay off the debt. She will come to regret making this decision at the end of the story when she discovers that the original necklace did not contain real diamonds, but only paste.

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