A Fool’s Payment
In the short story, “The Necklace,” a greedy and selfish woman brings financial ruin upon herself and her husband. They go from a comfortable lifestyle in a slightly shabby apartment to an impoverished existence in an attic apartment. Mathilde Loisel was born to a lower middle class French family, but she wished that she could have of noble birth. Her longing for a better life caused her great grief. When she could have been happy with her situation in life, instead she would dream of a grand home and wealthy, dignified friends. When she borrowed a diamond necklace from a friend and lost it at an elegant party, she brought downfall to her husband and herself. Not only does Guy de Maupassant use the necklace as a vehicle for the hard times that the Loisels had to endure, but he also uses it as a symbol to teach a lesson about the repercussions of greed, ruin, and regret.
To begin with, Maupassant displayed the necklace as everything that Mathilde had ever desired. The necklace was “…superb…and [Mathilde’s] heart throbbed with desire for it” (Maupassant 6). Mathilde had her choice of “…bracelets,…a pearl necklace,…a Venetian cross of finely worked gold and gems” (Maupassant 6), but instead she chose to take the most expensive and finest looking bauble in her friend’s jewel box. The diamond necklace revealed to the reader that Mathilde no only wanted
the finest things, but she also wanted the most luxurious and expensive ones to be found. While she could have had the most beautiful jewels, her hunger for glamour and her desire to appear wealthy caused her to choose a simple diamond necklace. After she lost it at the party, she could not go to her friend and explain the loss. Instead, she and her husband conspired to purchase a new one to replace it. If Mathilde had been happy with her new and beautiful dress instead of desiring for the finer things in life, then she would not have brought ruination upon herself and her husband.
[They paid with the]…eighteen thousand francs that his father had left him…borrowed, asking a thousand francs from one, five hundred from another, five louis here, three louis there. He wrote promissory notes, undertook ruinous obligations, did business with finance companies and the whole tribe of loan sharks. He compromised himself for the remainder of his days, risked his signature without knowing whether he would be able to honor it,…[Then] he went to get the new necklace, and put down thirty-six thousand francs on the jeweler’s counter. (8-9)
Mr. Loisel risked ruination to pay for his wife’s stupidity and greed. Not only did he take on terrible debts, but he worked on many side jobs just to help get the bills paid. Thus, he was risking his health as well as his name’s value. The debt had to be paid, the small family moved into an attic apartment and released the maid. Very quickly, Mathilde realized how comfortable her previous lifestyle had been in contrast to her new sufferings. Since Mathilde lost her friend’s necklace, she had to pay for her misdeeds. “She learned to do the heavy housework, dirty kitchen jobs. …she took the garbage down to the street,…dressed in cheap dresses,…[and] went to the fruit dealer, the grocer, the butchers…[and kept] defending her measly cash penny by penny” (Maupassant 9). The poverty that was brought on by the disappearance of the necklace altered the Loisel’s previous lifestyle to where they were struggling to stay afloat.
Finally, the necklace is used to show Mathilde’s regret. After ten years, “they had paid back everything” (Maupassant 9), and the impoverished life had hardened Mathilde. She no longer looked young and fresh and she had grown old before her time, all because of the necklace and that one night of revelry. Even though she had become a common woman, “sometimes,…she sat down near the window, and dreamed of that evening so long ago, of that party, where she had been so beautiful and admired” (Maupassant 10). She also felt much remorse and often wondered “what life would have been like if she had not lost that necklace” (Maupassant 10). Perhaps though, the most regret was felt after she talked to her rich friend who revealed that the necklace had not been a diamond one, but a cheap bauble. All of the debt and problems that she and her husband had faced because of the necklace were avoidable if she had just told her friend of its disappearance earlier.
Maupassant showed that the necklace was definitely not worth the ruination that it caused the Loisels. The poverty and want that was brought about by the necessity to repay the loans taken out to pay for the replacement could have been avoided. If Mathilde had not been so foolish as to attempt to be what she was not, rich, or had told her friend the truth, then she would have saved herself and her husband from the grief and ruin it caused. Guy de Maupassant showed that the necklace not only represented the greed, ruin, and regret of a woman, but it also symbolized the crushed hopes of a woman who wanted too much from life. Hopefully, most people are happy with what life has bestowed upon the. If not, they should not attempt to gain material possessions that will only bring ruin and suffering instead of love and happiness.
Maupassant, Guy de. “The Necklace.”
Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing
Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 5th ed.
Upper Saddle Rive, NJ: Prentice, 1998. 3-10.