The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant is a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to live outside of who you are. France, at the time this short story was published, was highly divided by class and had rigid structures for defining those classes. The three main structures at this time were the aristocrats, the merchants, and the peasants.
The main character Madam Mathilde Loisel yearns to be a member of the aristocracy; however, life has found her married to a poorly paid clerk. Her marriage is appropriate because she had no dowry or nobility, but she believes she was destined to be more than a clerk's wife. Her husband has spent their marriage trying to make his wife happy; however, Mathilde is solely focused on how much better the aristocracy live. At last her husband is able to acquire an invitation to a party being held by the Ministry of Education. He returns home expecting Mathilde to be excited about the prospect of going to a party with the aristocracy. To his surprise Mathilde tells him that she will not go, because she will feel ridiculous attending the party in the clothes that she has. Her husband, to please her, gives her the 400 francs he was saving to buy a new hunting rifle. Mathilde uses the money to buy a fancy dress.
Again, her husband finds her unhappy despite her beautiful, very expensive dress. When he asks her what is wrong, she tells him that she has no jewels to wear with the dress. Since there is no money left, her husband suggests that she use flowers to decorate the dress. This was very fashionable at the time and would have worked; however, Mathilde doesn't agree. Finally the husband suggests that she go to her friend Madam Jenne Forestier. Being a friend, Madam Forestier brings a jewelry box for Mathilde to select some jewelry. Mathilde is not happy with the contents of the box, so Madame Forestier continues to bring out jewelry boxes until Mathilde selects a diamond necklace that she finds to be the fanciest of the entire collection.
During the party Mathilde has a wonderful time. At the end, however, Mathilde finds that the necklace is gone. She has lost it sometime during the party. She and her husband go to find a replacement to give to Madam Forestier. To their dismay the necklace that is close to the one she borrowed is 40,000 francs. After talking to the shop owner and dickering down the price it is sold to the couple for 36,000 francs. In order to purchase the necklace they are forced to sell everything they have and use the money her husband was given by his father. Even then it is not enough so they are forced to get loans. These loans slowly eat away at their lives and they struggle to live due to the debt. During that time, Mathilde becomes bitter and blames Madam Forestier for their financial struggles. Again she becomes fixated on the aristocracy, but this time the focus is on how the aristocracy have ruined her life.
Mathilde is walking along the Champs-Elyses when she sees Madam Forestier. Her friend from school barely recognizes Mathilde because the past ten years have been so hard on her. The two women start talking and Mathilde admits that her dire straits are all due to the necklace that she lost and replaced. Madam Forester, in dismay, takes Mathilde's hands and tells her that the necklace was made from paste and worth only 500 francs.