Madame Loisel is discontent with her marriage, her house and its furnishings, her plain clothes, and her social class.
Since she had no dowry and no way of being introduced into high society, Mathilde Loisel found no opportunity of meeting a prosperous and well-bred man. Instead, she finds herself married to a minor clerk in the Ministry of Education. Consequently, she is as discontent as a woman "who has come down in the world."
Ironically, Madame Loisel does, indeed, "come down in the world." For, when her husband returns from work one evening, he proudly tells his wife, "Look, . . . I've got something for you." With excitement, Mme. Loisel tears open the envelope containing an invitation to the Ministerial Mansion. But, she is soon unhappy because she has nothing to wear. Her husband unselfishly gives her money he has been saving for a rifle, and when she later complains that she has no jewelry to accompany the dress, he suggests she borrow from her old school friend. She does so, and at the reception, Madame Loisel looks lovely. For one evening, then, she is what she has always wanted to be.
She was the prettiest one there, fashionable, gracious, smiling, and wild with joy. All the men turned to look at her, asked who she was, begged to be introduced. All the Cabinet officials wanted to waltz with her. The minister took notice of her.
She danced madly, wildly, drunk with pleasure, giving no thought to anything in the triumph of her beauty, the pride of her success, in a kind of happy cloud.
But the magical evening ends, and Madame Loisel must return to her old life. Once home from the ball, she discovers the necklace that she has borrowed is gone. So, the Loisels purchase a replacement for what they believe is a diamond necklace. After Madame Loisel returns the necklace to her friend, she and her husband work for years to repay the money they have borrowed. Tragically, their lives are ruined by Madame Loisel's vanity, and, in a way, her general discontentment with her life.