Discussion Topic

The necklace symbolizes wealth and power to Mathilde in "The Necklace"

Summary:

The necklace symbolizes wealth and power to Mathilde in "The Necklace." She believes it represents the lifestyle and social status she longs for, but its loss ultimately reveals the superficiality of her desires and leads to her downfall.

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How does the necklace symbolize wealth and power to Mathilde in "The Necklace"?

Author Guy de Maupassant uses the necklace to illustrate the primary themes of his classic short story.

  • GREED VS. GENEROSITY. Mathilde shows a greedy streak through the first part of the story (until she loses the necklace). She badgers her husband into using his savings to buy her an expensive dress, but she still isn't happy until she visits her old friend, Madame Forestier, and borrows the necklace. Monsieur Loisel's and Madame Forestier's generosity is a stark contrast to Mathilde's greed for the spotlight.
  • CLASS CONFLICT.  The necklace, Mathilde believes, is necessary for her to convince everyone at the ball that she and her husband--mere lower class bourgeoisie--deserve to attend such a high brow event. The dress alone was not enough; it was the necklace that completed Mathilde's transformation.
  • APPEARANCE VS. REALITY.  Little is what it seems to be in "The Necklace"--especially the necklace. Mathilde believes the necklace will fool everyone into believing she is the belle of the ball, and her wish is fulfilled. However, the necklace is nothing but paste, a fact that neither she nor anyone else in attendance realizes. The loss of the necklace and the resulting expense of purchasing a replacement reduces what seemed to be a drab life into one of utter hardship for Mathilede and her husband. The fact that the genuine diamond necklace that was returned was not even recognized as authentic by Madame Forestier (and why such a wealthy woman would own such a cheap knockoff) is even more ironic.   

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What does the necklace symbolize to Mathilde at first sight in "The Necklace"?

The necklace symbolizes the unattainable life of wealth that Mathilde longs for.

Mathilde is a middle class woman who longs to be rich.  She feels like she was born into the wrong lifestyle.  She is pretty, but she wants wealth.  When her husband gets her an invitation to a party, she is not as happy as he might have thought.  She gets very upset, and he asks her what is wrong.

"Nothing. Only I have no gown, and, therefore, I can't go to this ball. Give your card to some colleague whose wife is better equipped than I am."

Mathilde convinces her husband to use all of his savings on the new dress. However, she still needs a jewel that can compete with the other wealthy ball attendees.  He tells her to borrow one from a rich friend.

Madame Forestier is an old school friend of Mathilde’s, and much wealthier.  She gladly agrees to lend Mathilde any jewel that she wants.  She offers up many to her, but Mathilde chooses one that seems particularly expensive.

Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her heart throbbed with an immoderate desire. Her hands trembled as she took it. She fastened it round her throat,outside her high-necked waist, and was lost in ecstasy at her reflection in the mirror.

The necklace seems very valuable, and appears to be part of the lifestyle Mathilde desires and feels that she deserves.  It symbolizes wealth and prestige to Mathilde.  She has no idea that it’s fake.  When she loses it, she replaces it with the real thing.  Madame Forestier doesn’t know it until years later, when Mathilde has paid off the debt.  Mathilde tells her, and she realizes that she has wasted her life and her beauty paying off a debt that she didn’t need to incur.

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