Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
The ending to "The Necklace" may just be the mother of all twist endings. But just how does it work? What makes it a "twist ending?" The short answer: the twist ending depends upon suddenly revealing some bit of completely unexpected but hugely important information right at the close of the story. Somehow, that bit of information radically changes the meaning of what came before it. Why don't we have a closer look to see how the twist plays out in the story.
Mathilde's problem is that she accidentally loses something expensive and has to replace it. It seems sad, and maybe a little pointless, that her whole life is ruined on account of one little necklace, but what else can she do? She's got to make up for the valuable thing she lost. And so her ten years of hard work, her poverty seems kind of necessary: it has a purpose, and we admire the way she slogs through it all. Mathilde's experience of suffering appears to have helped her grow, and it's given her something to be proud of. And now she's ready to move on. When she meets Mme. Forestier on the street, all she has to do is come clean about substituting the necklace, and that whole episode of her life will be over. It looks like the ending will leave us feeling resolved and optimistic, even if it's not exactly a "happy" one.
But then Mme. Forestier reveal that the necklace Mathilde lost was a fake. That's totally unexpected and it changes the situation completely. If Mathilde and M. Loisel had just known the real value of the necklace – or if they'd just told Mme. Forestier what about what happened –they could have paid for it easily, without any debt. This whole time they thought that they were suffering necessarily, for a reason, they were actually suffering needlessly. By the way, revealing that contradiction between what the characters think about their situation, and what their situation actually is, technically makes this a moment of irony. Irony's often an ingredient of the best twist endings.
Mathilde's suffering, in other words, is now revealed to be pointless suffering (and easily avoidable pointless suffering at that). And if there's one thing that gets us down, it's pointless suffering. Not only that, the story's conclusion has suddenly shifted from being optimistic and forward-looking (anticipating how Mathilde will move on with her life) to being regretful and backward looking (dwelling on how pointless the last ten years were, and feeling wretched about it). Just imagine how Mathilde feels right now.
Does this ending have a "point"? According to one common reading of "The Necklace," it's all about how bad pride is. If Mathilde had just been honest and told Mme. Forestier she had lost the necklace, she would have learned it was a fake and avoided the whole thing. It's only pride that keeps her from doing that. According to this reading of the story, it might then seem like Mathilde did something to deserve this. But we don't think that the pride reading makes much sense. M. Loisel seems more responsible than Mathilde does for deciding not to tell Mme. Forestier, and he doesn't seem to have any of her character flaws. It might also not be pride that keeps the Loisels from telling Mme. Forestier at all. It could be fear, or a sense of honor or obligation. (Check out M. Loisel's character analysis for more of this.)
On another "moral of the story" reading, it's about how bad greed is. Although Mathilde's greed is not directly responsible for the loss of the necklace, it's because of her greed that she winds up with the necklace in the first place. You might also think that the false jewels symbolize the "falseness" of wealth. According to this reading, "The Necklace" is about how wealth is all show, no real value, and can be more trouble than it's worth. Mathilde's flaw was wanting so much more than she had, or needed. That reading, we think, makes more sense, although please feel free to disagree with us. We're also not sure the story does send the message that wealth is all bad.
Then again, if you're more of a cynic than a moralist, the take-home message could just as easily be: people suffer for nothing, and they're slaves to the cruel whims of fortune. There's nothing they do to deserve what they get. And all it takes is the loss of one little necklace, or one bad decision, to ruin your life.