At a Glance

  • "The Necklace" is, at heart, a story about class conflict. Beautiful Mathilde Loisel wants nothing more than to become a member of the upper-class. Her attempt to climb the social ladder results in a life of debt and misery.
  • In "The Necklace," appearances can be deceiving. In the end, the diamond necklace Mathilde replaces is revealed to be a fake. Had she simply told Madame Forestier about losing the necklace in the first place, she wouldn't have needed to go into debt to replace it. Ultimately, pride causes Mathilde's downfall.
  • Compared to her husband, Mathilde seems greedy and shallow. Monsieur Loisel is happy with his life, content to eat casseroles and work as a clerk. He willingly delays buying a long-awaited hunting rifle to get Mathilde a new dress for the party. In the end, he pays a high price for Mathilde's materialism and pretension.

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Themes

(Short Stories for Students)

Appearances and Reality
In his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn," John Keats pronounced that "beauty is truth, truth beauty." While subsequent generations have appreciated this Romantic assertion, Maupassant's story aptly demonstrates that it is not always correct. Madame Loisel is beautiful, but she is not content. She has the appearance of beauty but not the reality (or truth) of beauty. She is pretty and charming, but she is also unhappy with her lot in life and believes that she deserves more. Living modestly with her husband before the ball, Madame Loisel believes she is suffering a terrible injustice by having few luxuries. In fact, she does not experience the reality of poverty until she and her husband go into debt to pay off the necklace. The necklace itself represents the theme of appearances versus reality. While sufficiently beautiful to make Madame Loisel feel comfortable during the ministerial ball, the necklace is actually nothing more than paste and gilt. Thus, it is not the reality of wealth or high social class that is important for Madame Loisel, just the appearance of it.

Class Conflict
The theme of class conflict is closely tied to that of appearance and reality. The Loisels are members of the lower bourgeoisie, a class that stands above tradesmen and laborers (and above Madame Loisel's artisan family) but significantly below the class that has a hand in running things. Madame Loisel's dreams of "delicacy and luxury" are beyond her social reach. She has only one opportunity to attend a ball, but for the dignitaries and under-secretaries of state she meets there, such occasions are commonplace. She desperately wants to be part of this world, and remembers the affair fondly for many years. Her childhood friend, the upper-class Madame Forestier, is the target of Madame Loisel's envy before the ball, and the target of her blame afterwards as she descends into poverty to repay the necklace. Madame Loisel's focus on social climbing is unbecoming and in opposition to her outward beauty. Her belief that beautiful things and luxury are essential to her happiness is the fallacy that mars her physical beauty. Monsieur Loisel does not suffer the same obsession with class conflict as his wife does. He realizes that his wife would like to go to a ball, and he thinks that presenting the invitation to her will make her happy. He is surprised to learn that she will only be happy if she can give the illusion at the ball that she belongs to the upper class.

Generosity and Greed
Although she does not have a lot of money, Madame Loisel may be justly characterized as greedy. Her life is comfortable enough to afford one servant, but she wishes for several. She has plenty of food, but she dreams of "delicate meals." Her husband can barely afford to buy her a ball gown, but she insists on having jewelry to go with it. When she first sees her friend's diamond necklace, "her heart [beats] covetously." Her greed stands in marked contrast to the generosity of her husband and Madame Forestier. Monsieur Loisel forgoes both the purchase of a gun and plans for a shooting holiday with friends so that...

(The entire section is 1,005 words.)