The Necklace Characters
The main characters in "The Necklace" are Mathilde Loisel, Monsieur Loisel, and Madame Forestier.
- Mathilde Loisel dreams of being rich and is self-conscious about her middle-class status. She borrows Madame Forestier's necklace to wear to a ball but loses it, then spends the next decade working to pay off the replacement, sacrificing her beauty and youth.
- Monsieur Loisel is Mathilde's husband and a government clerk. He procures the invitation to the ball for Mathilde and helps to work off the debt for the necklace.
- Madame Forestier is Mathilde's wealthy friend. She lends Mathilde the necklace and later pityingly reveals that it was a fake.
Last Updated on April 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1024
Mathilde Loisel is a dissatisfied woman, and this drives her conflict with herself and with others. She imagines living a more fantastical life than the one she was born into. She feels that there is a great discrepancy between the life she should be living based on her charm and beauty (which, based on textual evidence, is not imagined) and the life she must daily endure. Her home is so ordinary that it pains her. She dreams of a more magical life, one filled with men who adore her and conversations of “whispered gallantries which you listen to with a sphinx-like smile.” She longs for extravagance because extravagance is exciting and would be an escape from her mundane life.
It is important to consider Mathilde’s historical context. As a woman living in the nineteenth century, her options are limited. As she wasn’t born into wealth and didn’t marry into it either, there aren’t many options for improving her social standing. She doesn’t have children to occupy her time and isn’t even required to complete her own housework, thanks to the household servant. Mathilde doesn’t seem to have many friends, and it isn’t noted that she spends time entertaining in her home. Thus, she has a great deal of time on her hands and little to do to make constructive use of it. Considering her context, Mathilde’s frustrations are somewhat understandable.
Mathilde’s frustrations could be somewhat pardoned if not for her vanity. This sense of self-importance affects everyone around her. Surely the home she shares with her husband is a tense one because she “suffer[s] ceaselessly” in it. Surely the fact that she desires to be envied is woven into their conversations and decisions. Surely her friend Madame Forestier is frustrated when none of the jewelry she offers to Mathilde passes her inspection for elegance. None of this matters to Mathilde, who is singularly focused on being recognized for the charming and beautiful woman she is.
Mathilde undoubtedly recognizes the ball as the dream she’s always longed for. This is her moment to finally be recognized in the society she holds in such high regard. And Mathilde likely believes that if she can be successful, she will be welcomed into a world full of the “delicacies and all the luxuries” that will finally fulfill her.
Ultimately, it seems that Mathilde finds her sense of purpose in the hard work of paying back the debt she’s incurred. Mathilde surprisingly rises to the occasion of repayment “with heroism,” throwing herself into the “heavy housework” she has spent a lifetime avoiding. She scrubs, washes, and carries slop until the beauty she so treasured is a distant memory. While Mathilde would have never willingly traded her beauty for such lessons, she has grown in strength and resiliency as she has become a woman who no longer spends her life in angry inner turmoil. Indeed, she encounters Madame Forestier at the end of the story because she has taken a walk in the Champs Elysees to “refresh herself,” the tone connoting a rather peaceful acceptance of her station in life. Perhaps Mathilde’s hardships have brought character growth that would never have transpired otherwise.
From every indication, Monsieur Loisel is a dedicated husband. Although he is referred to in the diminutive as a “little clerk,” and despite the fact that his wife is never seen engaging with him warmly, Monsieur Loisel makes ongoing efforts to please Mathilde and attempts to give her the life he knows she desires.
It is difficult for him to obtain the invitation to the ball, and Monsieur Loisel has great hopes that his wife will be “delighted” with his efforts. When she isn’t, he seeks to understand why. Upon realizing that his wife longs for a new dress for this event, Monsieur Loisel gives her the entire amount he has saved for a new gun and a hunting trip with his friends, never saying a word about his own loss in this donation. When his wife tells him that she needs fancy jewelry to accessorize the dress, he is the one who comes up with a solution. And when his wife loses what he believes is an expensive necklace, it is Monsieur Loisel who returns into the cold night to search for it and then assumes this debt as his own.
Monsieur Loisel is a man willing to make deep sacrifices for the woman he loves, even when there is no indication that she reciprocates feelings of affection toward him. He is a man who is willing to protect his wife and who tries to provide a little of the luxury that he knows she longs for.
Madame Forestier represents all Mathilde longs for. She is wealthy, and Mathilde pulls away from their friendship because spending time with Madame Forestier makes Mathilde “suffer” upon returning to her own home, which isn’t nearly as elegant. It is Madame Forestier who offers Mathilde her jewelry to wear and who endures her friend’s highly selective process of determining which piece would most flatter her. Madame Forestier, though she is wealthy, doesn’t seem to mind possessing some pieces of “costume jewelry,” which are replicas of much more expensive gems. Interestingly, Mathilde could have saved herself much pain if she had possessed this same attitude, particularly since she is unable to distinguish between genuine gems and fakes. Madame Forestier seems to genuinely care about Mathilde’s change of circumstances. It is noted that she “took her two hands,” apparently in a moment of affectionate support, before telling Mathilde that the gems were “paste.” Perhaps, however, the fact that the necklace was a fake could have remained unsaid after all her friend had endured to replace it. The friendship is a strained one at best, supported by the fact that the women have never run into each other in the ten years Mathilde has been working to repay the debt. It seems the society Mathilde longed for, represented by Madame Forestier, is fated to remain forever beyond her reach.