Looking at Guy De Maupassant’s piece “The Necklace”, we see a very clear development of the main character Mathilde. In the story, we see a change in her attitude about life. This change come about when she has to learn one of life’s little lessons the hard way. She and her husband are forced to live a life of hard work and struggle because of her own selfish desires. Mathilde changes from a woman who spends her time dreaming of all the riches and glory she doesn’t have, to realizing that she over looked all the riches she did have. The story opens with the description of how miserable Mathilde is. Maupassant describes her as “suffering constantly, feeling herself destined for all delicacies and luxuries.” (Pg 4) She sits dreaming of silent rooms nicely decorated and her own private room, scented with perfume to have intimate “tete- a-tetes” with her closest friends. Then she is awakened, only to realize that she is in her own grim apartment. In her eyes, she lives a tortured and unfair life. Mathilde has a husband named Monsieur Loisel. He is much the opposite of his wife. He is completely content with his lifestyle. He seems to be a very passive person, who doesn’t let status or riches affect him. Of course, if he had the chance to be rich he would, but he doesn’t dwell on the fact that he is part of the middle class. He seems to be a hard worker and does his best to provide for his wife. He demonstrates is simplicity the one night at dinner Monsieur Loisel and Mathilde sit down to eat. Mathilde is dreaming of fancy four course meals, while he is ecstatic because they are eating boiled beef. Monsieur Loisel is aware that his wife has not yet adjusted to her status. One night, he had come home from work very excited. He had worked extra hard to get he and his wife invited to one of the biggest parties ever. Monsieur Loisel thought this would be please his wife, when in fact it only made her upset. Here was Monsieur Loisel trying to please his wife and she just started to cry. This just goes to show how ungrateful she really is. When Monsieur Loisel had inquired about why she was upset, she had said it was because she had nothing to wear. She was hinting to her husband that she needed a dress. Then Monsieur Loisel, because he wanted his wife to be happy had willingly given up his vacation money so his wife could have a dress to wear. Still, that wasn’t good enough for her. Mathilde wanted more.
Luckily, Mathilde had a friend in the upper class. She had gone to her friend and had asked to borrow jewelry for the occasion. This just helped to prove her need to have more. When she arrived at her friend’s house she had many things to choose from. Mathilde had seen all kinds of things that delighted her but one thing in particular had caught her eye. “In a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her heart throbbed with desire for it. Her hands shook as she picked it up. She fastened it around her neck, watched it gleam at her throat and looked at herself ecstatically.” (Pg 6) She had gotten all she wanted. Once again, Mathilde’s selfish desires had been fulfilled. After going to the ball and basically being the “life of the party”, she returned home to her drab apartment, only to remember the events of the evening where she was in the spotlight and people looked at her. It was at that moment that she had noticed that the necklace was missing. She and her husband had searched everywhere for it yet, the necklace was nowhere to be found. For the next ten years Monsieur Loisel and Mathilde worked their fingers to the bone to repay Mathilde’s friend for the necklace that Mathilde had carelessly lost. They had to move to a different apartment, this worse than the last. They also had to borrow money from the various people to pay some of the finance charges they had acquired from owing loan sharks. It was in this time, that Mathilde had begun to change. Physically, “she had become the strong, hard, rude, woman of poor households. “ (pg 9) But also there was a change on the inside, too. Sometimes she still sat and thought about her moment of glory and then thought about what her life would have been like if she would have never lost the necklace. She realized that her selfishness and desire to be “on top” had caused her to experience the major down fall that she did. She also realized that she was at rock bottom now, her and her husband both, and she had put them there.
Monsieur Loisel in this time really didn’t change. He just did what had to be done in order to pay for his wife’s mistake. I don’t think he complained about it either. He saw that she was working hard to correct her mistake and indeed was learning from it. Once again, Monsieur Loisel was demonstrating his passiveness. Maupassant uses Mathilde as a round character. She is the one who changes or evolves with the events of the story. She learns that “one should be content with what one has” and “it’s ok to dream, but not to let your dreams keep you from seeing reality. “ Monsieur Loisel then, is a flat character. He remains the same or is constant. With all the commotion in the story, Monsieur Loisel manages to keep the same character traits. His life is affected yet, he’s still the same person. Another example of a flat character is Mrs. Forriester. Even though her necklace is lost, it really doesn’t have an impact on her character. She too, remains constant. Mathilde dreams of unattainable wealth and comfort yet, fails to see that her dream life ends up harming her real life. Maupassant does and excellent job of showing the transformation of Mathilde’s character from a person who is selfish and ungrateful to a person who realizes that her mistakes and pays for it the rest of her life. Even though the story is fiction, Maupassant has made it believable and lifelike. Someone reading this story could benefit greatly from it. We all must deal with selfishness at some point in our lives. Why not learn from other peoples mistakes, fiction or not.
De Maupassant, Guy. “The Necklace.” Literature : An Introduction to Reading and Writing , Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall, 1995. 3-10.
Mathilde Loisel wants to be a glamour girl. She's obsessed with glamour – with fancy, beautiful, expensive things, and the life that accompanies them. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't born into a family with the money to make her dream possible. Instead, she gets married to a "little clerk" husband and lives with him in an apartment so shabby it brings tears to her eyes (1). Cooped up all day in the house with nothing to do but cry over the chintzy furniture and the fabulous life she's not having, Mathilde hates her life, and probably her husband too. She weeps "all day long, from chagrin, from regret, from despair, and from distress" (6). She dreams day after day about escaping it all.
Mathilde the Material Girl
When it all comes down to it, Mathilde's kind of a material girl. The most obvious thing she wants out of life is: expensive stuff.
She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury… She let her mind dwell on the quiet vestibules, hung with Oriental tapestries, lighted by tall lamps of bronze, and on the two tall footmen in knee breeches who dozed in the large armchairs, made drowsy by the heat of the furnace. She let her mind dwell on the large parlors, decked with old silk, with their delicate furniture, supporting precious bric-a-brac, and on the coquettish little rooms, perfumed, prepared for the five o'clock chat with the most intimate friends… (3)
Now why does Mathilde want all of these expensive, material possessions? It doesn't sound like she just wants it because she's money-obsessed. No, for Mathilde, the rich life is attractive because it's glamorous, beautiful, exciting, fine, and unlike the dingy apartment in which she lives. The glamorous life has a certain kind of magical allure to it. A lot of the objects Mathilde wants are magical, like the "tapestries peopling the walls with ancient figures and with strange birds in a fairy-like forest" (4). For Mathilde, being wealthy amounts to living in a fairy tale. Being middle class amounts to boredom. She wants the fairy tale.
Does her wish to live the fairy tale life make her "greedy"? Well, you ever notice how throughout the first part of the story, Mathilde's never satisfied with anything? When her husband brings her the invitation all she can think about is the dress she wants. When she gets the dress, all she can think about is the jewels she doesn't have. And when she visits Mme. Forestier, she's not really satisfied with any of her jewel collection – she keeps on asking, "You haven't anything else?" (46). At least until she sees the most fabulous, expensive looking piece of jewelry, that is: the diamond necklace.
So yes, by many standards, Mathilde is probably greedy. But her greed's not the end of the story. Material things aren't the only things she wants. And there's also a deeper reason for her greed: dissatisfaction. We can't help but thinking that if she truly were satisfied with her life as it is (i.e., marriage, home, etc.) that she wouldn't be day-dreaming of a life she could never have.
Mathilde and Men
The other thing Mathilde wants? Men. Rich, attractive, charming, powerful men. That passage we quote above finishes with: "the most intimate friends, men well known and sought after, whose attentions all women envied and desired" (3). Just a little afterwards, we're told:
She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after. (5)
What's interesting about Mathilde's man-craze is that she seems to be more interested in seducing men than in the men themselves. That's because what Mathilde really wants is to be wanted. More than being just desired, Mathilde wants to be glamorous — gorgeous, charming, graceful, and thoroughly decked out in diamonds. The ultimate measure of being glamorous just happens to be being attractive to glamorous men. It all forms part of one big glamorous, fairy-tale world, the world about which Mathilde fantasizes.
What's particularly frustrating to Mathilde is that she knows she's got the natural looks and charms to be a splash with the rich playboy types she wants to impress. She just needs the outward signs of being wealthy, but can't afford the necessary clothing and jewelry. Mathilde's quite vain about her "feminine charms." Her vanity may be why she's unwilling to go to the ball unless she looks better than everyone else there. And when she does go to the ball, that's exactly what she is:
The day of the party arrived. Mme. Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest of them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and mad with joy. All the men were looking at her, inquiring her name, asking to be introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wanted to dance with her. The Minister took notice of her. (53)
So Mathilde may be vain, but she's at least not deluding herself about her attractiveness. Mathilde's vanity about the ball might seem a little extreme, but think of it this way: so far as she knows, that ball might be the one chance she has to experience the life she dreams about. If you were in her shoes, wouldn't you want to make it absolutely perfect?
Mathilde the Desperate Housewife
We know Mathilde can be a hard character to like. She can seem vain, greedy, and shallow, especially compared to her husband, who goes to great lengths to please her. He's happy with what he has, while she always wants more. He seems to care a great deal for her, while she almost never shows any sign of caring for him. Does Mathilde have any redeeming qualities?
We don't know, but we do think Mathilde deserves a little sympathy. Think about what it means to be a middle-class woman in 19th century France. Because she's a woman, Mathilde has almost no control over her life: her family marries her off to her husband, and once she's married, he's her master. He goes out and works, and gets to go out on hunting expeditions with his buddies, while she has to stay in the house all day. She doesn't seem to have a terribly close bond to her husband, or find him attractive. She doesn't seem to have many friends – how would she meet them? She doesn't have any kids to occupy her time. She doesn't even have anything to do, since the maid takes care of the housework. Her life seems to be miserably boring. In fact, she doesn't have anything to do except to daydream about a different life. That makes Mathilde a classic case of the desperate housewife. (For the classic case, head on over and check out Emma Bovary, the leading lady of Flaubert's Madame Bovary.
In those circumstances, can you blame Mathilde for creating a fantasy world that's more glamorous, more exciting, more beautiful than her own? Can you blame her for wanting to be wanted by somebody rich and important? Back then, if you were a woman, being wanted by a man was practically the only way to be anybody at all. And Mathilde feels like a nobody, wanting to be a somebody.
Still, we can't sympathize completely with Mathilde. It does seem like at some level her complete and total unhappiness has got to be self-induced. Her situation makes her unhappy, but she also refuses to try to make herself happy. She refuses to try to be content with what she does have. Which is too bad, because, as she finds out when she loses the necklace, things can get a lot worse.
Mathilde's poverty later in the story raises another question though. When Mathilde's poor, she certainly seems to be worse off. Her impoverished life suddenly becomes difficult and uncomfortable in a way her middle-class life never was. She's constantly busy doing physically demanding chores. She gets exhausted. She has to be rude to people, and pick fights over pennies. Her good looks disappear. But then again, once she's poor, at least Mathilde is doing something. She can no longer be bored and useless. And all her hardship and work has a purpose: she and her husband have to repay the debts. So maybe, in a certain way, Mathilde's better off when she's poor. What do you think?