What is the theme of "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893)  has a fairly simple plot. Mathilde Loisel is a beautiful young woman who dreams of being wealthy and fashionable but is actually a member of the petite bourgeoisie or lower middle class, who has made an appropriate marriage to Monsieur Loisel, a junior clerk. She is embarrassed by her situation and refuses to socialize with some of her wealthy school friends. When they are invited to a party thrown by a high-ranking official, Mathilde insists on buying an expensive dress, and borrows a necklace from her wealthy school friend, Madame Jeanne Forestier. After a wonderful night at the party, where she is widely admired, she loses the necklace, and she and her husband end up in abject poverty paying to replace it. Many years later, when she admits of the loss to Jeanne, it turns out the necklace was a fake.

The main themes of the novel are social class, trust, and envy. The highly stratified social class system of France in the late nineteenth century fuels the corrosive envy that leads Mathilde to spend money the couple really could not afford on the dress and borrow the necklace. Had she trusted her friends from school, and rather than worrying about appearances, kept up her social connections and been open about the loss of the necklace, the couple would not have suffered so much from the loss. Given Jeanne's easily willingness to help a school friend, one gets the sense that much of Mathilde's worries about appearances, and sense of shame, lie in her own sense of self rather than  any actual negative attitudes on the part of her friends. It is her own even and mistrust that cause the loss of the necklace to have such bad consequences. 

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mathilde Loisel wanted to be admired for her beauty and grace. She has one triumphant night at the Minister of Public Instruction's ball. She was admired and sought after by all the men who were present. She felt that she had outshone all the other women. However, she had to pay for her triumph by losing all her charm.

Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become the woman of impoverished households--strong and hard and rough. With frowsy hair, skirts askew and red hands, she talked loud while washing the floor with great swishes of water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat down near the window and she thought of that gay evening of long ago, of that ball where she had been so beautiful and so admired.

The theme of the story is glaringly apparent at the end. She had thrown away her beauty and subjected herself to years of dreary toil for the sake of mere appearances. She was too concerned about what other people thought of her. Most of us have the same fault. We want other people to think well of us. We spend too much of our lives worrying about other people's opinions. We waste our time and resources, and we often make fools of ourselves. Mathilde Loisel did not fully realize what a terrible price she had paid for her few hours of triumph until her friend Mme. Forestier told her the devastating truth:

"Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste! It was worth at most only five hundred francs!"