The Necklace Summary
"The Necklace" is a short story about Mathilde Loisel, a middle-class woman who longs for a wealthy lifestyle.
- Mathilde borrows a diamond necklace from her wealthy friend, Madame Forestier, to wear to a ball.
- After the ball, Mathilde realizes that the necklace is gone. Unable to find it, the Loisels borrow a great deal of money to buy a replacement.
- Mathilde and her husband spend the next ten years paying off their debts, and Mathilde ages prematurely as a result of the hard work. When Mathilde finally tells Madame Forestier about replacing the necklace, Madame Forestier tells her that the diamonds were fake.
Last Reviewed on April 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1011
Mathilde Loisel is a charming and pretty woman who has always believed herself destined for greater things than her life has brought her. The feeling that she deserves the luxuries of life and is yet unable to afford those “delicacies” causes her to suffer continuous feelings of jealousy and longing. After marrying a clerk who works at the Ministry of Public Instruction, Mathilde settles into a life of mediocrity, longing for women to envy her and men to pursue her. Finding these desires unfulfilled, Mathilde even begins avoiding her wealthy friend Madame Forestier, a former schoolmate, because returning from her friend’s house of opulence causes Mathilde to suffer even more deeply when she returns to her own modest abode.
One evening, Mathilde’s husband arrives home with what he believes will be joyous news for his wife. The couple has been invited to a grand ball and celebration at the palace of the Ministry, and the invitation has been difficult for Monsieur Loisel to procure. Yet instead of the delight he expects the invitation to elicit, his wife responds with scorn, telling him that she cannot possibly attend without a proper dress. Trying to comfort her, Monsieur Loisel asks how much a simple dress might cost, and Mathilde estimates that such a dress would cost around four hundred francs. Monsieur Loisel has saved just that amount of money to treat himself to a gun and a getaway with friends the next summer, but he gives his wife his savings so that she can buy the dress she desires.
As the date of the ball approaches, Monsieur Loisel senses his wife’s anxieties growing. He asks why she’s been behaving so oddly, and she tells him that she cannot go to the ball without having a single jewel to wear with the dress. He tries to convince her that “natural flowers [are] very stylish at this time of the year,” but Mathilde cannot be convinced. Instead, she worries that she will be humiliated, looking “poor among other women who are rich.” Her husband gives Mathilde an idea that overjoys her: she should simply ask to borrow some jewelry for the event from Madame Forestier.
Madame Forestier shows Mathilde many pieces in her collection, from a pearl necklace to pieces with precious stones and “admirable workmanship,” but nothing seems stunning enough to capture Mathilde’s interest. She asks her friend if she has any more jewelry, and Madame Forestier produces “a superb necklace of diamonds.” Mathilde places it around her neck with trembling hands, “lost in ecstasy at the sight of herself.” She kisses her friend and flees with her treasure.
When the ball arrives, Mathilde Loisel is as radiant as she’s ever dreamed. She is “elegant, gracious, smiling, and crazy with joy.” Men desire to know her and beg to be introduced to her. The attachés of the Cabinet desire to waltz with her, and the minister himself makes comments about her. Mathilde dances until four in the morning, made “drunk” by the pleasure of captivating the attention of a room, just as she’s always desired. Finally, it is time to return home, and Mathilde finds her husband asleep in an anteroom. When Monsieur Loisel wraps his wife in the “modest wraps of common life” before they enter the cold, Mathilde again feels the pains of her relative poverty in comparison to the women who wrap up in “costly furs” as they prepare to leave.
Desperate to escape scrutiny, Mathilde flees the room, running outside and down the street. The couple cannot find a carriage, and it takes a while to arrive home. As Mathilde stands before her mirror to appreciate her beauty one final time, she realizes that the diamond necklace she has borrowed is missing.
Panicked, she tells her husband, who begins a frenzied series of questions about where she could have lost it. Monsieur Loisel leaves to retrace their steps but returns at seven o’clock empty-handed. He visits the police and newspaper offices and offers a reward, but there is no lead. Finally he tells his wife to write Madame Forestier and claim that the clasp of the necklace has been broken and that they will have it fixed before returning it. Mathilde does as instructed, and the Loisels attempt to find an exact replica of the necklace. After much searching, they locate what they believe is an exact match; it will cost them thirty-six thousand francs.
After borrowing money from everyone they can and adding to this total the eighteen thousand francs left to Monsieur Loisel by his father, they are able to purchase the necklace and present it to Madame Forestier. Mathilde then turns to repaying the debt she and her husband have incurred. She dismisses her servant, changes her address, and takes in a boarder.
Mathilde settles into the “horrible existence of the needy” as she submits to heavy housework, scrubbing floors and scraping pots with her nails. She carries the weight of both slop and water and learns to bargain with the grocer and butcher.
Finally, after ten years of her life have passed this way, Mathilde Loisel succeeds in paying off the debt of thirty-six thousand francs. She goes for a walk in the Champs Elysees one Sunday and encounters Madame Forestier there. Since she has now paid off the debt, she decides to speak to her former friend, whom she hasn’t seen in all these years, and tell her the truth about the necklace.
Madame Forestier initially has no idea who Mathilde is. When she realizes the identity of Mathilde, Madame Forestier “utter[s] a cry.” Mathilde explains that she’s had to work ten years of strenuous labor to pay back loans she incurred for the loss of Madame Forestier’s original diamond necklace but that she is relieved that “at last it is ended.”
It is at this point that the painful blow is delivered: Madame Forestier takes Mathilde’s hands and explains that the necklace was “paste,” worth at most five hundred francs.