The Necklace Analysis

  • The ending of "The Necklace" is an example of irony: Mathilde spends years working to pay back the debt she incurred to replace the necklace, only to find out too late that it was fake.
  • Mathilde Loisel's greatest flaw is her materialistic dissatisfaction. As a beautiful young woman in her prime, she believes she deserves more than a middle-class life. It is ultimately this desire for wealth and status that destroys her.
  • For Mathilde, the necklace is a symbol of social status. In the end, however, the necklace becomes symbolic of Mathilde's downfall and the emptiness of her dreams of wealth.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The Necklace” is a reflection of its societal context. Set in Paris during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the story reflects the ideals of beauty and opulence appropriate for that context. Mathilde is surrounded by a world which is evolving quickly in some respects. The invention of the sewing machine is changing fashion. The traffic light moves people through large cities like Paris more effectively. The mail-order catalog is changing the experience of shopping. The telephone is transforming communication. And women can now shop in department stores; these sprawling shopping meccas lure women in ways smaller boutiques have been historically unable to do. It is therefore not surprising that Mathilde wants to engage in this faster, dazzling, lavish life, particularly in a city recognized as being one of the most fashionable in the world.

One thing that hasn’t yet evolved is the role of women in Mathilde’s world. In this era, stereotypes lingered that women belonged in their own “sphere,” separate from the world of men, which is reflected in the Loisel marriage. The education of women was not enthusiastically embraced during this period; “too much” education was often considered unfeminine, and some doctors actually convinced women that studying too much would shrink their ovaries. Women were encouraged to take pleasure in activities such as singing, music, art, and dancing and were expected to find personal fulfillment via those endeavors. Mathilde’s conflict therefore becomes how to both exist in the world where her dreams surround her and not directly be involved in the excitement. She can’t afford the opulence and she can’t change her situation through her own power. She is therefore conflicted regarding her role in a world which seems to be moving forward without her and relies instead on her beauty to fulfill her dreams.

The necklace comes to symbolize this quest. Mathilde places her hopes in this beautiful and seemingly extravagant piece of jewelry to illuminate all that she could be if she had been born into different circumstances. Though she is not wealthy, the necklace conveys that she is, and for this one night, that is enough. The necklace is the finishing touch on the beauty that makes her “prettier than them all” as she is entertained by men at the ball. It gives her confidence; she becomes “intoxicated” by the attention and awe she generates. Yet it is all an illusion. The wealth, the necklace, and ultimately even Mathilde’s happiness are all a deceptive portrayal of a false reality. When she realizes the necklace is gone, Mathilde has a physical reaction. She longs to see herself one final time “in all her glory” before returning to her mundane life but is denied this moment and cries out, likely both in disappointment at being robbed of one final glimpse of beauty and glamor and due to the realization of her monetary loss.

There is great irony in the loss of the necklace. Mathilde, who has spent her comfortable life wishing for the lifestyle of the wealthy, throws away the very beauty she values on a worthless necklace. All of Mathilde’s efforts and dreams are wasted because she cannot distinguish reality from illusion. Mathilde’s beauty, her most promising trait, is so disfigured by the story’s end that not even her friend recognizes the woman she has become. And ironically, somehow in the loss of the comforts, Mathilde finds a purpose for her life. She gains an appreciation for the life she had after she learns the “horrible existence of the needy.” She doesn’t shirk from repaying the debt and doesn’t try to convince her husband to hold on to their servant, house, or displays of relative comfort. Instead, Mathilde works—and works hard. It is never noted that she complains about the work; instead, she accepts it as her duty. Perhaps this is what she really longed for all along—a true sense of purpose to give meaning to her existence. In her loss, Mathilde finds a daily confidence that she seemed to lack early in the story. She learns to “[defend] her miserable money” instead of looking upon it with disdain. When she sees her old friend, she faces the truth. She realizes that Madame Forestier is “still young, still beautiful, still charming,” the adverbs conveying her realization of the disparity in their circumstances and in all she has lost. Surely she knows that her appearance will be a surprise to her friend, yet she intentionally engages with her, intent to acknowledge the reason for the loss of her beauty, the thing she once valued most.

The story ends with a great surprise to Mathilde, but the unavoidable question becomes what happens after this scene. Madame Forestier now stands in Mathilde’s debt, having received a necklace worth many times its value as a replacement for one that was lost. Regardless, Mathilde’s character has evolved into one of greater substance because she lost a beautiful necklace, which she unfortunately misjudged based on its appearance—and in the end she is also misjudged by her former friend because of her appearance. Mathilde once believed that because of her beauty, she could change her circumstances; ironically, the beauty she held in such high esteem becomes the source of her financial and physical ruin.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Style, Form, and Literary Elements