In his captivating must-read chef-d’oeuvre ‘The Necklace’, Guy de Maupassant presents the story of Mathilde Loisel who happens to be a woman from a humble background who ends up doomed into a life of poverty by her dreams of wealth. Mathilde Loisel is the central character in the story who resents her ‘station’ in life. As a result, she ends up losing even herself based on her vain attempt to appear wealthy and pleasing at the expense of her hardworking and loving husband. As the paper unveils, the roundness presented by Mathilde’s personality, background, motivations, relationships, conflicts and the dynamic change that she undergoes make her the ideal type of character for the author to convey his warning against greed and vanity.
It suffices to regard Mathilde Loisel as overtly guided by emotions rather than rationality. Her desire to be wealthy makes her very uncomfortable of her current life despite the fact that her husband is willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of her happiness. Instead of being appreciative, she cries when her husband proposes that she wears flowers rather than jewelry to the ball. Her lack of rationality and the complete lack of empathy drag her and her husband into a hard life of hard work and poverty, which deprives them of their initial self worth. Her reactions and remark to her husband, when presented with the invitation card, reflect this lack of reasoning. “Instead of being delighted as her husband hoped, she flung the invitation petulantly across the table murmuring: “What do you want me to do with this?” (Roberts 202).
Mathilde Loisel is seriously obsessed with glory and wealth that she turns out to be uncaring and inconsiderate of other people. This is evident from her interactions with her husband who is willing to do anything to please her. Despite the husband’s efforts, Mathilde is always lost in fantasy. She is always regretting of her current situation. Regardless of the hardships presented in their lives, the husband, on the other hand, is caring. He dedicates everything that he has to make her happy. He takes her out for theatre shows, but still she is unhappy. As a result, she has even isolated herself from her friends for fear of embarrassment by her situation. She has even given up her friendship with a former schoolmate who happens to be wealthy for the same reason. It is also remarkably uncaring for Mathilde to be dreaming of a life of happiness and wealth while all she does is sit in her apartment fantasizing and dreaming instead of actively participating in trying to transform her current state.
All her fantasies turn into reality during the party. It is the only time Mathilde is happy in her entire life. She dances with other men while her husband dozes off in the coatroom. In this case, she is selfish in that she does not put into consideration the sacrifices that her husband made to make her happy. She ignores him all the way in an effort to raise the affections of other people who are present in the party. When she is in that moment of happiness, she turns out to be loveable and happy rather than the always-depressed woman she always is. She also turns out to be outgoing considering the many people she interacts with in the party.
Mathilde is born and brought up in a humble background in what the author refers to as a family of artisans. As the author continues to say, however, “for women have no caste or class, their beauty, grace, and charm serving them for birth or family, their natural delicacy, their instinctive elegance, their nimbleness of wit, are their only mark of rank, and put the slum girl on a level with the highest lady in the land”(Roberts 200). Her poor background did not present her with the chance to get all what she believed or thought she deserved in life. As a result, she hoped to get this from her marriage, which was not the case. Her background could not make her famous and get the chance to meet a wealthy man to marry her who will satisfy her vanity. She ended up marrying a clerk in the ministry of education, which was against her expectations, as she remained unhappy and dissatisfied, for she considered herself to have married beneath her class.
Mathilde managed to get some education, which was not enough to enable her to get the connections she desired in life to lead the life of luxury that she always marveled. She, as a result, became a homemaker who could do nothing but sitting in her apartment all day long fantasizing and regretting her husband’s financial inadequacies.
Mathilde’s main motivation lies on her belief and feeling that she was born for every delicacy and luxury that life can present (Roberts 201). Her desire for a wealthy lifestyle dictates her actions throughout the story. The desire to be noticed and appreciated by people in the upper social caste also informs her actions. These desires make her insensitive of other people’s feeling and eventually contribute to her doom. It is this desire that makes her opt for the borrowed necklace rather than the roses that her husband suggests she wear to the party. She ends up losing the necklace. This is the beginning of her doom as she is condemned to ten years of poverty after she loses the necklace.
Mathilde’s fear of embarrassment by her situation stops her from revealing to her friend that the necklace is lost. She and her husband end up striving for ten years to pay up for the necklace, which she realizes later, was an imitation. Had she overcame this fear, chances are that her life would have been utterly different. Her friend would have only demanded to get the five hundred francs that the necklace was worth or even forgive her for being honest.
The people that Mathilde actively interacts with in the story are her husband, Monsieur Loisel, and the neighbor Madame Forestier. The fears other people regarding her as a poor-make Mathilde somewhat introverted, as she avoids her former school friend who is relatively wealthy (Roberts 201). The relationship between Mathilde and her husband is constantly on the rocks, as she is not satisfied despite Monsieur Loisel’s numerous sacrifices to satisfy her and make her happy. Mathilde does not want to face the repercussions of her deeds especially when she loses Madame Forestier’s necklace. Monsieur Loisel even takes charge of the situation, as he is the one who dictates to Mathilde the letter that she writes to her friend to explain her delay in returning the necklace. Her dissatisfaction leads her into problems. Still, she relies on her husband that she disapproves for help.
Mathilde fails to face Madame Forestier to report the loss of the necklace, which triggers their actions in an effort to repay the wrong necklace. She loses herself, the beauty, and elegance that she desires when forced to leave the average apartment. She already resents for a much smaller and uncomfortable one. Her appearance changes significantly to the extent of not being easily identified by her friend ten years down the line. The inference that this was because of her introverted nature that emanated from her fears of being embarrassed by her situation holds true.
The central conflict in Mathilde’s character is between the desire for the luxury that comes with wealth and the reality of her life. Because of these conflicting forces, she loses happiness for the best part of her life. Her husband expects her to be thrilled when he presents her with the invitation card to the Ministry’s party. Instead, she is sunk into depression by concentrating majorly on the things that her situation cannot present to her. “She had no outstanding clothes, no jewels, nothing; these were the only things she loved; she felt that she was made for them”(Roberts 200). The only time when she is happy in the entire story is when she is at the party where she attracts the attention of almost all men present. “All the Under-Secretaries of State were eager to waltz with her…The Minister noticed her” (Roberts 206). On the contrary, her real financial situation could not afford her the lifestyle that was the only guarantee for her happiness. This particular night was, in fact, the one that her happiness paved was to ten years of languishing in poverty because of her efforts to despise her reality.
The character of Mathilde changes dynamically as the story progresses. Mathilde is charming, tender and lovely in the beginning. These change later in the story after her condition that she already despises changes for the worst. “Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become like all the other strong, hard, coarse women of poor households. Her hair badly done, her skirts were awry, and her hands were red. She spoke in a shrill voice…” (Roberts 207). Only memories of the night when she was attractive and admirable gave her the motivation to live.
The character of Mathilde takes another fundamental change following her changed situation. She becomes outspoken. Courage replaces the fear of being embarrassed that once boiled in her. She approaches Madame Forestier ten years later when she had taken a tour along the Champs-Elysees to liven up. Madame Forestier does not recognize her at once. However, this does not affect her intentions. This time, she suffers no embarrassment from who she is as she did ten years ago.
Mathilde’s rounded personality, her background; motivations, relationships, conflicts, as well as the dynamic change in her character, play a prominent role in the overall story telling process by Guy de Maupassant. It is indeed because of this that her real character is portrayed to the readers of ‘The Necklace’. The manner in which these aspects of character portrayal link with each other assist the author in portraying the message that greed can sink a person into a worse situation.
Roberts, Edgar. The Necklace: An introduction to Reading and Writing. New York: Longman, 2010. Print.