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Analysis of Mathilde Loisel's character in "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant

Summary:

Mathilde Loisel is depicted as a vain and materialistic character. She is dissatisfied with her modest life and yearns for wealth and luxury. Her desire for a lavish lifestyle leads her to borrow a necklace, which she loses, resulting in years of hardship. Ultimately, her obsession with appearances brings about her downfall, highlighting the dangers of vanity and greed.

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How does Mathilde show dynamic character development in "The Necklace"?

Mathilde spent her entire life wanting to be socially important, wealthy, own many luxurious possessions, and desired. While she was a beautiful woman with a loving husband, she felt she deserved better than her middle class lifestyle.

In an attempt to make his wife happy, Mathilde's husband secures invitations to an exclusive ball. He knows that their average lifestyle is not to her liking, and is  making an effort to fulfill her desire to be among the wealthy. After much  drama, Mathilde is suitably attired and drenches herself in a beautiful diamond necklace that she has borrowed.

During the ball, Mathilde feels that she is finally in her true element. She has a grand time, but it ends all too soon. On this particular night, Mathilde feels she has finally found happiness. The superficiality of her happiness is not evident to Mathilde at this point. To her horror, she has lost the necklace.

To replace the necklace, she must work herself into exhaustion. Her previous good looks have vanished in all the toil, and her ability to appreciate any small pleasure is gone. Her momentary pleasure in a night of social pleasantries costs her everything.

To make matters worse, she learns the necklace she borrowed was a fake. Mathilde learned that a superficial desire cost her her youth, vitality, and beauty.

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Can you describe the character Mathilde from The Necklace?

Mathilde's physical appearance is not described much in the first part of the story. When she has the eponymous necklace around her neck, she is said to be "prettier than all the other women, elegant, gracious, smiling, and full of joy." We might infer from this description that Mathilde is, at least at this point in the story, rather beautiful.

In the second half of the story, however, after ten years of abject poverty, Mathilde is described as "look[ing] old." She has become "strong, hard, and rough like all women of impoverished households." Her hair is "half-combed," and her hands are "reddened."

There is much more description, throughout the story, of Mathilde's personality. At the beginning of the story, for example, she is described as "unhappy" and "suffer[ing] endlessly" because of "the poorness of her house." The poor furnishings in her house "torment ... her and [make] her resentful," and she dreams enviously of "vast living rooms furnished in rare old silks [and] elegant furniture loaded with priceless ornaments."

In the second half of the story, after she has been reduced to a state of even greater poverty, Mathilde is described in more positive terms. She is described as adapting to her altered circumstances "heroically." She might also be described as stoical. Indeed, she doesn't complain or try to avoid her debt; rather, she accepts that "the dreadful debt must be paid." She works hard every day for ten years, "fighting over every miserable sou," until the debt is paid off.

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How does the setting reflect Mathilde's character and affect the story in "The Necklace"?

Mathilde lives in the apartment at the opening of the story and is very discontent with the life she leads. She wants very much to be famous and wealthy. She is not poor, but in comparison with what she desires she appears to be when she reflect upon her own life.

At the party she gets a glimpse of the life she's always wanted. Every man at the party wishes to dance with her and every woman at the party wants to be her and wonders who this beautiful woman is and where she came from.

In the attic flat Mathilde learns her lesson. Had she been content with her previous life she would have seen it for all that it was, not all that she thought it was lacking. Only now in the flat can she see that her life was not nearly as meager as she had made it out to be. 

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What are Mathilde Loisel's personality traits in "The Necklace"?

Mathilde Loisel is portrayed as a materialistic, superficial woman, who desperately wishes to enjoy a life of luxury and laments about her lower-middle-class social status. She is unhappily married to a minor clerk in the Ministry of Education and "grieves incessantly" about her shabby, run-down apartment, which someone of her class would never notice or comment on. Despite the fact that Mathilde Loisel is married to a man with a stable job, has a servant, and enjoys going out to the theater, she is not pleased with her lifestyle and is portrayed as an unappreciative person. She is also depicted as a dreamer, who fantasizes about owning oriental tapestries, living in a mansion, and lounging on expensive furniture. Mathilde Loisel is also portrayed as being shallow and does not appreciate her husband's sacrifices or genuinely care about his emotional status. She is completely selfish and even refuses to attend a ball at the Ministry of Education because she does not have anything fabulous to wear. The fact that Mathilde Loisel believes that Madame Forestier's necklace is made from genuine diamonds also displays her naivety and ignorance.

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What are Mathilde Loisel's personality traits in "The Necklace"?

The character traits that describe Mathilde Loisel are in no way redeeming. From the very start of the story we realize that not even Maupassant has the intention of making a likable character out of her. With the exception of her "pretty" looks, Madame Loisel does not have too many extraordinary personal characteristics. In fact, she may actually come off as follows:

Falsely entitled-  The story establishes that Mathilde was not born into a rich or powerful family. She had no dowry, so she could not "select" a rich husband to join fortunes with for the future. She, instead, is married to a clerk. As such, she is unhappy, dreams of riches and fortunes, and truly believes that she deserves better. Why would she believe something like that if she has never seen any difference. This shows you that she may have a false sense of entitlement that leads her to believe that she is better or more deserving than what she is. The problem is that we do not see any quality in Mathilde that would support such theory. 

Vain- Mathilde wanted all the attention of the ball to fall on her. For this reason, when she goes to ask Madame Forrestier for a borrowed necklace, she chooses one that goes perfectly with her personality: the most flamboyant, flashy, showy...and fake-looking in her friend's collection. She picks it up because she feels that it will make her look better than the others at the ball. In reality, this was one false piece made of paste gems that she ended up paying dearly for.

Unsophisticated- Mathilde may have wanted all the riches in the planet, but she did not know much about them. She would have known that the necklace was fake, or at least she would have known how to ask the question, had she been more worldly. She would also have shown some elegance and dignity if she had confessed to her friend what happened instead of going by what her pride dictated. 

Ungrateful- She was not thankful for the little that she did have. Notice that, after working to replace the necklace, she went into a worse lifestyle than she had before. Her husband had to give up whatever small inheritance he may have gotten. They had to dismiss their maid, move to an even smaller place, and she was visibly shaken as well as mentally affected. Yet, not even when things were better was Mathilde even the least thankful for anything. Not even when her husband secured the invitation to the ball. 

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What is Mathilde Loisel like physically and psychologically in the story, "The Necklace"?

In the beginning of de Maupassant's tale, Madame Loisel is stunning.  Although she had to scrounge to find just the right accessories fpr the party, when she makes her appearance,

She was prettier than anyone else, stylish, graceful, smiling and wild with joy.  All the men saw her and asked her name, sought to be introduced.  All the important administrators stood in line to waltz with her.

Psychologically, we see that she is already something of a mess.  Her desire to be in the circles of the elite is overwhelming.

By the end of the story, the pressure of trying to fit into the social circles to which she has no purchase has taken its toll (along, of course, with the trauma of the lost "gems"). 

Mrs. Loisel looked old now.  She had become the strong, hard, and rude woman of poor households. Her hair was unkempt, with uneven skirts and rough re hands, she spoke loudly, washed floors with large buckets of water....sometimes, when her husband was at work, she sat at the window, and she dreamed of that evening so long ago, of that party, when she had been so beautiful and admired.

As you can see, Mathilde's mental state declines in steady measure with her fading beauty. 

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What are Mathilde Loisel's personality traits in "The Necklace"?

Madame Loisel undergoes a complete transformation from beginning to end of Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace."

In the beginning of the story, Mathilde is described as pretty, charming, and born for luxury. She constantly compares her humble life to the one she feels she deserves—one of "dainty dinners, of shining silverware, of tapestry." She is heartbroken that she possesses no jewels or fancy apparel and that she is not envied in her life. Mathilde is described as suffering because she believes she is poor. Everything hurts her—the shabby furniture, the ugly curtains, her plain clothing, even the peasant who she hires to do her housework.

Once her husband gives her the money to purchase an elegant dress, she is not satisfied and decides she needs jewelry. Her husband's brilliant idea to borrow jewelry from her wealthy friend Jeanne solves Mathilde's problem. She is ecstatic to wear such lavish clothing and a diamond necklace, and her entire demeanor changes as a result.

At the party, Mathilde is transformed into a great beauty. Her physical beauty shines, as she is admired by many:

She danced with intoxication, with passion, made drunk by pleasure, forgetting all, in the triumph of her beauty.

Her extreme happiness transforms her physically into the prettiest woman in the room, because she is self-confident. She enjoys the party not only because it is different than the poor, mundane life she leads daily but also because it represents the kind of life Mathilde believes she is destined for. So ashamed is she of her modest lifestyle that she runs out the door when the party ends so that the other women will not see her simple wrap while they put on their furs.

Her next transformation occurs as a result of having to work to repay the debt they incur from replacing the lost necklace. Mathilde and her husband work constantly for ten years to pay for the replacement for the diamond necklace. If she thought her life was difficult before, it becomes much worse now. Forced to do her own housework and errands, she "dressed like a woman of the people . . . defending her miserable money."

But Mathilde takes on the debt willingly and "with heroism." She understands that Jeanne trusted her with the diamonds and she must work to replace them. As a result, when the debt is finally paid off, she looks much older than her actual age and her hands have become red and rough from washing dishes. Her change is underscored when she meets her old friend, who still looks young and beautiful. Jeanne does not recognize "this plain good-wife" and is shocked at the physical difference.

The difference is also emotional. Mathilde no longer regrets that she married a clerk and is not living a life of luxury. Although she does dream of that wonderful party she enjoyed so much, she has been humbled by her experiences and no longer believes she is too good for her current station in life.

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What are Mathilde Loisel's personality traits in "The Necklace"?

Madame Loisel changes emotionally, physically, and mentally in the story “The Necklace.”   Emotionally, she is selfish and shallow.  Though she is married to a man who loves and provides for her, she sees only that he does not make enough money, and that she does not have the material possessions she wants. 

“She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains.” 

Physically, she is very attractive: “She was one of those pretty and charming girls…”  Mentally, she is living in a dream world where she ignores her own reality in favor of daydreaming about being someone else.

  “She imagined vast saloons hung with antique silks, exquisite pieces of furniture supporting priceless ornaments, and small, charming, perfumed rooms, created just for little parties of intimate friends, men who were famous and sought after, whose homage roused every other woman's envious longings.” 

In the end, these longings to be someone she is not will result in consequences she could not possibly have imagined.

After she loses her friend’s necklace, Madame Loisel is forced to change as she and her husband spend years paying off the debt for the necklace they purchased to give back to Madame Forestier.  Her servant is dismissed and she does all the work herself.

  “And, clad like a poor woman, she went to the fruiterer, to the grocer, to the butcher, a basket on her arm, haggling, insulted, fighting for every wretched halfpenny of her money.” 

She has changed mentally from a woman living in a dream world to a woman living in a very harsh reality.  Physically, she is no longer beautiful.

  “Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become like all the other strong, hard, coarse women of poor households. Her hair was badly done, her skirts were awry, her hands were red.” 

She has lost her beauty, but she has gained some pride in herself .  We see this emotional change when  she speaks to Madame Forestier one morning ten years after she had borrowed the necklace. 

"I brought you another one just like it. And for the last ten years we have been paying for it. You realise it wasn't easy for us; we had no money. . . . Well, it's paid for at last, and I'm glad indeed." 

Madame Loisel is proof that we should not covet what we do not have because everything is not as it seems.  For example, the necklace she lost was fake; her immature desire to look better than everyone else at the ball has cost her ten years of her life. 

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In Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace," what is the character sketch of Mathilde Loisel?

Maupassant's "The Necklace" is written in 3rd-person omniscient, which means that the narrator does know all about Mathilde. However, he chooses to sketch Mathilde by way of indirect description; that is to say, even though he does mention that she's unhappy, most of her character is determined by how she reacts to situations and consequences detailed throughout the plot-line. For example, the mood surrounding Mathilde is whining and complaining. She tells the maid to clean up more in order to make the dull house look better than it is. She complains that she doesn't have money for a dress or jewelry, too. Mathilde truly doesn't realize what she has; neither is she grateful for anything in her life. The indirect inferences force the reader to piece together Mathilde's character throughout the whole story without the narrator needing to blurt out that she is an ungrateful woman. Sadly, she learns the hard way about what it means to be grateful for what she has.

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How is Mathilde described at the beginning of "The Necklace"?

Throughout the exposition of the story, Mathilde Loisel is described first as a "pretty and charming" girl, who appears as though she is from a prominent family, but has, unfortunately, been born into a family who work as government clerks because she lacks a dowry and, therefore, cannot marry into an upper class family.

Then, the fact that she must settle for being married to a minor clerk in the Ministry of Education is the cause of Mathilde's discontent. For, she feels that she has been born for a more charming life in which she has beautiful furnishings, jewels, clothes, and other luxuries. She desires to be in high society where she can be admired by men "whose attention every woman envies and longs to attract."

It is these material things that Madame Loisel envies; in fact, the desire for riches and the attention of high society is so uppermost in her mind that when she visits a well-to-do friend, rather than enjoying the woman's company, she returns home and weeps for days from the anguish of not having such luxuries herself. Mathilde Loisel is consumed with materialistic desires.

Thus, the first six paragraphs provide the description of Mathilde Loisel and her defining characteristic of desire for material possessions and the admiration that she feels such things as jewels and beautiful clothes will elicit.

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What are two character traits of Mathilde in "The Necklace" and how does she exhibit them?

Mathilde Loisel is materialistic and unappreciative. Although her husband works diligently to provide for their family, even attempting to offer her the best that he could afford. His wife would have preferred a wealthier husband, however.

“She had no dowry, no expectations, no way of being known, understood, loved, married by any rich and distinguished man; so she let herself be married to a little clerk of the Ministry of Public Instruction.”

Despite her husband’s attempts to satisfy her desires, Mathilde is greedy for greater wealth. She feels that she was born to live a life a luxury and that her life as the mere wife of a clerk is destined to be fruitless and unimportant.

“She had no gowns, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing but that. She felt made for that.”

Even when her husband secures exclusive invitations to an extravagant ball, she is still discontented:

“Instead of being delighted, as her husband had hoped, she threw the invitation on the table crossly, muttering: "No; there's nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other women who are rich." 

Instead of acknowledging her husband’s gift, she rudely suggests that he has created a situation that will only embarrass her. Her husband is forced to compromise with her and give her all of the money that he has saved so that she can purchase a ball gown. He further encourages her to borrow a piece of jewelry from her friend, Madame Forestier.  They attend the ball together, but Mathilde spends the evening with other men, neglecting her husband shamelessly.

After losing the necklace, Mathilde experiences poverty. She can no longer afford to pay anyone to complete her household chores. She and her husband are forced to survive on the barest necessities so that they can save enough to repay Madame Forestier.

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What actions or speeches reveal Mathilde's character traits in "The Necklace"?

In "The Necklace," Maupassant uses both direct and indirect characterization:

DIRECT

  • The author makes direct comments on the character of Mathilde in the exposition: "She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born, as if by an accident of fate, into a family of clerks....as unhappy as a woman who has come down in the world; for women have no family rank or social class."
  • When Mathilde is disastified with the appearance of her home, the author comments, "All these things, which another woman of her class would not even have noticed,..."

INDIRECT

  • In her thoughts, Mathilde is discontent in her social setting:

She grieved incessantly, feeling that she had been born for the little niceties and luxureis of living.  She grieved over the shabbiness of her apartment, the dinginess of the little walls, the worn-out appearance of the chairs, the ugliness of the draperies....She would dream of great reception halls....

  • In her speech, Mathilde expresses her discontent with her position in life.  When her husband brings home an invitation to an evening reception, she is not delighted.  Instead, she says scornfully, "What good is that to me?  When he offers her the money he has saved for a rifle for a new dress, she does not even thank him.  Yet, when Mme Forestier lends her a necklace, she "threw her arms arund her friend, kissed her warmly, and fled with her treasure."  This kiss was obviously not for the friend, but a joyous reaction to being in the possession of such a beautiful material object.
  • In her actions, Mathilde indicates her selfishness as she ignores her husband at the reception, reveling instead in the attentions of the other men as her tired husband waits patiently for her in an armchair. After the necklace is lost, Mme. Loisel "plays her part with sudden heroism," Maupassant writes.  Again this is an indication that Mathilde values the loss of the necklace as more momentous than the relationship with her husband, for she does not so any gratitude toward him as he shares in the deprivation that they must endure for years as they repay the debt.  Also, it is noteworthy that she does not contact Mme. Forestier and report the loss.  Her false sense of pride will not allow her to do this.  That she continues to have a false sense of values is indicated in the denouement of the story when Mme. Loisel encounters Mme. Forestier in the park year later and boasts of having bought a necklace so much alike that Mme. Forestier has not noticed:

'Do you remember that diamond necklace you loaned me to wear...?  we've been paying for it for ten years now...'

Mme Forestier stopped short. 'You mean to say you bought a diamond necklace to replace mine?'

And she {Mathilde] smiled with proud and simple joy

To the end, Mme. Loisel values only what is false as indicated in her thoughts, speech, and actions.

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Can you analyze the character of Mathilde in "The Necklace?"

Mathilde is highly dissatisfied with her life. She is “pretty and charming,” but she is poor, and she resents it greatly. With no dowry, she cannot climb up the social ladder and must marry a “minor official at the Ministry of Education.” Clearly, Mathilde doesn't really love her husband, for she “let herself be married,” and this sounds more like she has resigned herself to something she would rather not do and has little enthusiasm for.

Mathilde also tends to feel very sorry for herself. Instead of making the best of her situation, for she is much better off than many people, she sighs and mopes that she cannot have fancy clothing or a beautiful house or rich foods or all sorts of luxuries. Again, she becomes greatly resentful as she looks around her home and does not see the wonderful riches she wants. Mathilde, then, is really something of a spoiled brat. She doesn't get her way, so she pouts. Then when she spends time with a rich friend, she comes home and cries for days with “sorrow, regret, despair and misery.” Mathilde simply cannot appreciate the good things she has, for she always wants more.

Mathilde's husband does his best to please her. One day he even brings home an invitation to a fancy party, thinking that Mathilde would be thrilled. She is not. She is actually angry and impatient because she has nothing to wear. Then she starts to cry until her husband (with a gulp) tells her she can get a new dress. Mathilde may not actually be trying to be manipulative, but she is. Even the new dress does not satisfy her, for she has no jewels to wear with it. Her husband tells her to borrow some from her friend.

Finally, Mathilde seems to find some joy, or at least some pleasure, but it is short lived. She has a marvelous time at the party, but the night ends in horror as somehow Mathilde loses her friend's “diamond” necklace.

The purchase of a replacement sends Mathilde and her husband into true poverty, but surprisingly, this actually improves Mathilde's character. She is set on paying off the debt, and she works hard for ten full years until the couple pays back every last penny. Mathilde is strong now. She is much less focused on her appearance and surroundings. She does what she must do without complaint or resentment. She has become proud of her hard work and of the fact that she and her husband have paid their debt.

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What are three characteristics of Mathilde Loisel in "The Necklace"?

Mathilde Loisel is a lower-middle-class woman, who is married to a clerk at the Ministry of Education. Despite hailing from a humble social class and not possessing any significant work ethic, Mathilde Loisel is depicted as an entitled individual, who believes that she has the right to enjoy a life of luxury. Rather than being grateful for her life, health, and opportunities, Mathilde is a depressed, bitter woman. Guy de Maupassant writes,

All those things, of which another woman of her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made her angry (1).

In addition to being an entitled individual, Mathilde is also an imaginative woman. She daydreams about owning magnificent, expensive items and living the privileged life of a wealthy aristocrat. Guy de Maupassant writes,

She thought of the silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra, and of the two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the heavy warmth of the hot-air stove (2).

Mathilde Loisel is also an extremely materialistic, superficial woman, who wants people to envy her. She values expensive items and desperately desires to wear the finest clothes and jewelry. Mathilde's primary concern is attaining various material items that suit her expensive taste and make others envious of her. She is not concerned with inherent values and is solely focused on appearances. Guy de Maupassant writes,

She had no dresses, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing but that; she felt made for that. She would so have liked to please, to be envied, to be charming, to be sought after (2).

Mathilde Loisel's superficial, materialistic personality motivates her to borrow Madame Forestier's "diamond" necklace, which seems to be authentic. Tragically, Mathilde loses the necklace and works for the next tens years to replace it.

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What are three characteristics of Mathilde Loisel in "The Necklace"?

Mathilde is lovely and tragic. Physically, she is attractive and charming. However, she is also unfortunate. One primary characteristic of Mathilde is that she is discontented. She feels that she has been kept out of her appropriate place in society, and that she is limited by her poor fortune and station. We know this both from the direct characterization in the first two paragraphs and from her frantic longing to appear more wealthy than she is. Mathilde is also selfish. Despite her husband's efforts to make her happy and give her what he can, she is always dissatisfied. Again, both her actions and the narrator confirm this: "She had no dresses, no jewelry, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only." Finally, Mathilde is proud. Her fear of appearing to others as less than perfect causes her to borrow the necklace, and to hide the fact that she lost it. It causes her to work to repay the debt, a debt that she need not have at all. Arguably, this is the most tragic trait of all.

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What are Mathilde's characteristics in "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant?

One characteristic of Mathilde is envy. Guy de Maupassant’s short story begins with Mathilde wishing that she had a luxurious life. Her homely curtains, unclean walls, and battered chairs make her upset. She wants finer things. She longs for objects that symbolize wealth and prestige. At dinner, her husband is pleased with the beef stew that they are having, but Mathilde is displeased. She'd rather be consuming some sort of fancy dish on shiny silverware in an elaborate dining room.

Mathilde’s covetous characteristic connects to a key characteristic of hers: manipulation. Mathilde’s husband receives an invitation to a fancy party, but Mathilde claims that she can’t go. She tells her husband that she won't attend as she has nothing to wear. Mathilde’s resistance to the party seems like a guise. Earlier, Mathilde expressed how badly she wanted to be a part of high society. Mathilde was likely making it look like she wouldn’t go to manipulate her husband into giving her money to buy a new dress.

The first two traits of Mathilde aren’t so flattering. But by the end of the story, Mathilde showcases more commendable qualities. To make amends for her greed and the cost of the necklace, Mathilde demonstrates remorse and sacrifice. She commits herself to a life of unglamorous hard work. She takes out the trash, does the dishes, and cleans. These may not totally redeem her character, but it’s certainly a start.

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