Understanding Mathilde Loisel, the main character in Guy de Maupassant’s story The Necklace, is not simple. Madame Loisel lived a humble life as the wife of a clerk; however, she desired the life of her rich friend Madame Forestier. One evening Matilde’s husband came home with an invitation to an event at the Palace and Matilde responded with a disgusting displeasure to the invitation: “What do you wish me to do with that.”
Nevertheless, Matilde and her husband found the money to acquire a dress and borrow a special diamond necklace from her friend Madame Forestier. At the Ball Matilde was the prettiest, most joyful, desired female of the evening. Upon returning home, Matilde realized she had lost her friend’s necklace. Matilde and her husband made up a lie and borrow money to replace the lost item. The fate Matilde found in replacing the necklace—ten years of hard labor— was to harsh.
What is the cause of Matilde’s self induced punishment? At first it appears to the reader that she is being rebuked for lying and losing the necklace. But is this the case? The cause of Matilde’s problem is not lying about the lost necklace, but her vain attitude towards the envy of a better life. How does the reader know the cause of her punishment is vanity?
First, Matilde will not attend the ball without the proper material possessions of a dress or jewelry. Second, she is consumed by forming a lie to protect the necklace rather then telling the truth and taking responsibility for her fault.
Third, Matilda is willing to sacrifice 10 years of hard labor to pay for her mistake. In the end, Matilde over-reacted to the situation and her vanity caused her to cover-up a simple venial sin. Matilde’s over indulgence in her own self-interest is to blame for the creation of her elaborate lie. The loss of the necklace is the result of her vanity.
What price did Matilda pay for her attempt to cover up the vanity underneath the loss of the necklace and the lie to cover it up? The reader knows that Matilde suffered ten years of drudgery in hard physical labor to repay the monetary value of the necklace. Furthermore, Matilde’s husband worked extensive hours at his job and forfeited his inheritance to pay for the necklace. Consequently, Matilde suffered the loss of her physical beauty while being impoverished as a slave to the households she cleaned. In addition, Matilde and her husband were forced to resign any possibility of climbing the social ladder because the majority of their lives would be spent working to pay back the price of the necklace. Matilde’s punishment was too harsh for simply being vain.
Madame Loisel’s pride, which is a product of her vanity, has dealt her the cold hand of an ironic fate. The ironic part in the story is that Madame Forestier’s necklace was not real to begin with and Matilde’s perception of Madame Forestier and the upper class life turned out to be just as phony. Matilde should not have to pay the price she did for something that was not real to begin with. In the end, Madame Loisel suffered an unjustified form of an ironic punishment in relation to the severity that her vanity should have caused.
In a different set of circumstances, Matilde should have told the truth about the necklace from the moment she found out it was lost. Had she done this her fate may have had a more positive result. Nonetheless, the simple mistake of having too much self-importance does not deserve a life sentence of chastisement.
Fortunately, Matilde ended up learning a lesson from her mistake and was able to tell the truth. As a result, Matilde returned to her humble self and had the courage to approach Madame Forestier to find out the real truth. The mistake Matilde made was that she borrowed a necklace to feel important for one night in her humble life and experience what rich people took for granted. Matilde’s faults in her character should not inhibit her until death. Madame Loisel did not deserve the unforgiving penalty of ten years of hard labor.