Discussion Topic

Mathilde Loisel's flaws, foolishness, and hubris in "The Necklace"


Mathilde Loisel's flaws in "The Necklace" include her vanity, materialism, and pride. Her foolishness is evident in her desire to appear wealthier than she is, leading her to borrow a necklace. Her hubris is shown by the lengths she goes to maintain this façade, ultimately causing her downfall when she loses the necklace and spends years repaying the debt.

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What is Mathilde Loisel's flaw in "The Necklace"?

Madame Loisel has many flaws, but the two most obvious are 1)her greed or lust for material things and 2) her inability to confess the truth about what happened to the necklace.

Pride is also a huge fault which plays into both of these reasons.  Her pride makes her feel that she is entitled to the "good" life of balls, gowns, fancy jewelry, and servants to wait on her every whim.  It is also the reason that after the night of her life, she can not bring herself to admit to her school friend, Madame Forestier, that she has lost the necklace which Madame Loisel borrowed.

Because of her greed, she borrowed a necklace to add sparkle to her attire for the ball.  The pride has kept her from confessing the truth, and has forced her into a decade of hard labor and debt in order to replace the cherished jewels.  She has also lost her youth and beauty due to her pride and refusal to admit the truth.

Her friend, Madame Forestier, is still young and lovely and barely recognizes Madame Loisel years later when they meet again.  Upon hearing the story, Madame Forestier confesses that the necklace was only paste...not real at all.  Had Madame Loisel told her friend the truth, she could have saved her husband and herself much suffering.

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What is Mathilde's foolishness and expectation in "The Necklace"?

Two character flaws relate to Mathilde's foolishness in the story.  First, she is unappreciative.  Mathilde never realizes what a decent man her husband is.  He selflessly gives up his own desires to make her happy (giving her the money he had saved for a gun so that she can buy a new dress).  Mathilde does not appreciate his sacrifice; she simply asks for more and ignores his heartbreak at not being able to please her. Even when she and her husband work tirelessly for ten years to pay for the replacement necklace, she thinks only of how her carelessness affected her, not how it has broken her husband or negatively affected their relationship.

Mathilde's foolishness is also a result of her focus on the superficial. Appearance is everything to her; so she does not think to look at people's or things' interior. The necklace is the perfect example of this. She assumes that because it comes from Madame Forestier that the necklace is valuable and in the end discovers that it is not. Similarly, she fails to recognize the value of her husband because superficial characteristics such as his job and lack of wealth are all-important to her.

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How does Mathilde portray hubris in "The Necklace"?

According to enotes literary terms guide, hubris can be defined as "arrogance, excessive self-pride and self-confidence." The guide goes on to say, "The word was used to refer to the emotions in Greek tragic heroes that led them to ignore warnings from the gods and thus invite catastrophe."

This description fits Mathilde fairly well. She has too much pride, so much, in fact, that she would rather destroy her life than admit she had made a mistake. Mathilde is lower middle class and is ashamed of that status. Though she is young and beautiful and would probably be well-liked for her good qualities, she is unhappy and wants to be the envy of others. She insists her husband buy her things beyond thier means and borrows what she thinks is a very expensive diamond necklace to show off at a high class affair. When she loses the necklace, she buys a replacement rather than admit her error, and the replacement is so expensive that she must work for years to pay for it and move into a seedy area to save money. One might argue that these actions are prompted by shame and not pride, but they are actually a result of her desire to be better than others. She desires the finer things because she feels superior to her lot in life and thinks both her husband and her status are beneath her.

In the end, she meets her friend, Madame Jeanne Forestier, from whom she had borrowed the necklace and pridefully boasts that she is the stronger, better person for working so hard to replace the necklace. The irony is that she has destroyed her life for nothing...for pride alone, since the necklace was a fake.

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How does Mathilde portray hubris in "The Necklace"?

Mathilde portrays hubris because she believes she should live like an aristocrat even though she is just the wife of a clerk.

Hubris is defined as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence” (Merriam-Webster).  Mathilde wants a better life, but she just assumes she deserves one.

Mathilde suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born to enjoy all delicacies and all luxuries. (p. 1)

But Mathilde was not born into a high family.  She was born into a “family of clerks,” yet “she was unhappy as if she had really fallen from a higher station” (p. 1).  She was therefore never happy with her life. 

Mathilde’s husband tries to do the best he can, and even when he goes out of his way to get a ticket to a fancy ball, it only brings her more misery.

Instead of being delighted, as her husband had hoped, she threw the invitation on the table crossly… (p. 1)

Even when Mathilde gets something, she is not grateful for it.  She has too much pride.  She wants to go to the ball in a nice dress and jewels, or not at all.

Another example of Mathilde’s hubris is her reaction to losing the necklace.  Instead of admitting it and asking for forgiveness, she lies and tries to replace it.  Therefore her hubris is her downfall.  She loses the one wealth she has—her youth and good looks.

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