What happens in The Necklace?

Mathilde Loisel borrows a necklace from her friend Madame Forestier. Mathilde's husband has secured an invitation to a party hosted by his boss, the Minister of Public Instruction. When Mathilde worries that she doesn't have anything to wear, her husband agrees to buy her a new dress.

  • Thanks to her new party dress and Madame Forestier's diamond necklace, Mathilde has a wonderful time at the party. All the men think she's the prettiest woman at the party, and she dances until four in the morning.
  • Upon returning home, Mathilde notices that the diamond necklace is gone. Her husband retraces their steps to no avail. Embarrassed, the couple spend their entire inheritance and take out loans to pay for a replacement necklace.
  • Mathilde and her husband spend the next ten years scrimping and saving to pay off their debt. The menial housework ages Mathilde prematurely to the point where Madame Forestier doesn't even recognize her. Finally, Mathilde tells her friend about replacing the necklace, only to learn that it was a fake.

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mathilde Loisel is attractive and pretty, but unhappy, very unhappy. She believes that life has played her false. She feels relegated to a lower station than she deserves. She wanted to be appreciated and loved by some rich gentleman from a good family, but instead, having no dowry, she had to settle for a junior clerk in the Ministry of Public Instruction. Her existence is one of constant frustration. She hates her plain apartment, its absence of pictures on the walls, its shoddy furniture. Even the sight of her maid, doing housework, fills her with hopeless regrets and provokes flights of fancy about more opulent surroundings. Though other women of her class may come to terms with their station in life, Mathilde never can.

She is so humiliated by her lower-middle-class existence that she even refuses to see one of her old friends whom she has known from her days at the convent school. Madame Forestier is wealthy, and Mathilde finds visits to her too painful to bear; so, she spends her days hanging around her drab flat, sometimes crying the entire time, overcome with worry, regret, desperation, and distress.

Her husband, on the other hand, seems better adjusted. He does not notice that the tablecloth has been in use for three days. When he is served a simple casserole, he can exclaim with pleasure: “Well, a good hot-pot. I don’t know anything better than that.” One day, he comes home from his office with an invitation to a party that is being given by his superior, the minister of public instruction. Instead of greeting the news with delight, Mathilde throws the invitation down on the table, saying that it is no good to her, because she has nothing suitable to wear for such an occasion. Her husband tries to convince her that it was very difficult for a junior clerk to get asked to such an event. “You will see the whole world of officialdom there,” he says, suggesting that she wear that good-looking dress she once wore to the theater. She refuses and tells him to give the invitation to a colleague whose wife is better turned out than she.

Monsieur Loisel tries another tack. He asks her how much it would cost to get a proper dress. She thinks it over, trying to estimate what an old pinchpenny like him would be willing to spend. She decides on the sum of four hundred francs that, as it happens, is exactly the amount that he has put away to buy himself a gun so he could join some friends who go Sunday lark-shooting on the Nanterre flatlands. He is not happy to forgo his pleasure but agrees.

An appropriate dress is ordered and is ready before the date of the dance. Mathilde, however, is still depressed. Now she complains that she does not have any jewelry to wear with it. Her husband suggests flowers. She is unimpressed. He then suggests that she go to her rich friend Madame Forestier and borrow some jewelry. His wife thinks it a good idea and the next day goes and explains the situation...

(The entire section is 2,033 words.)