by Guy de Maupassant
M. Loisel is the "little clerk in the Department of Education" (1) to whom Mathilde's family marries Mathilde off. Mathilde herself, as we're quick to find out, isn't terribly happy about her middle-class husband. She hates the shabby "averageness" of their life, and is miserable being cooped up in their apartment all day, dreaming of the luxurious life she wants to be leading. M. Loisel, on the other hand, seems quite happy with their situation. Unlike Mathilde, he enjoys his life as it is, especially that good old homemade pot-au-feu (stew):
When she sat down to dine, before a tablecloth three days old, in front of her husband, who lifted the cover of the tureen, declaring with an air of satisfaction, "Ah, the good pot-au-feu. I don't know anything better than that," she was thinking of delicate repasts, with glittering silver, with tapestries peopling the walls with ancient figures and with strange birds in a fairy-like forest… (4)
Yes, M. Loisel appreciates the little things. He also seems devoted to his wife. After all, he goes to all that trouble to get her the invitation to a fancy party, which he couldn't care less about himself (he sleeps through it). He sacrifices the hunting rifle he's spent months saving up for so Mathilde can buy a dress for the ball. And when she loses the necklace, he's the one who goes all over the city searching for it. Most importantly, M. Loisel spends his life's savings replacing it.
So M. Loisel seems like the simple, happy, good guy in the story, a foil for his perpetually dissatisfied wife. They make the classic unhappy bourgeois couple, in other words. But you can wonder about two things…
Is M. Loisel an insensitive husband?
M. Loisel enjoys his domestic life quite a lot, unlike Mathilde, but think about the difference in their situations. He's got a life outside his home, a group of buddies to go on hunting trips with, and a gorgeous wife who serves his favorite stews for him when he comes home from work. He doesn't have to stay cooped up in the house all day with nothing to do. Doesn't something seem a little unfair about that situation, then, as if his enjoyment might come at her expense?
Clearly, M. Loisel cares for his wife for all the reasons we said. And he at least knows her well enough to know that the invitation to his boss's fancy party will be important to her. But he doesn't know her well enough to understand that the invitation won't be enough, and he's stunned by her reaction to it. When she explains she can't go without a dress, the narrator tells us simply that "He had not thought of that" (16). And he's "astonished" to see how upset she gets. That suggests he himself might not understand just how different things are for women and men (at least during the 19th century). He doesn't have to worry about what he looks like; she does.
It could be that Mathilde is the real problem, because she's so hard to please, and refuses to be content with what she has. But it could also be that because of her situation as a woman, her life is just a lot worse than her husband's (see Mathilde's "Character Analysis" for more on this), and he doesn't understand that. Then again, even if he did, what could he do? It's not clear what he could do to make Mathilde happier, short of divorcing her (which would probably make her worse off), or somehow miraculously getting rich.
At the end of the day, we still do think M. Loisel is a good guy. But perhaps he should try and appreciate a little more how different his life is from his wife's.
Is M. Loisel too proud?
Some readers place the blame for the story's unhappy ending on Mathilde. She's too proud to tell Mme. Forestier that she's lost the necklace after her husband's efforts to find it have failed. Intuitively, that might make sense, since she is the vain one in this story. But if you look at the events of "The Necklace," it seems like M. Loisel is the one who doesn't want to tell Mme. Forestier what has happened. Before they've given up hope of finding the necklace, he tells Mathilde to lie to Mme. Forestier and say that the necklace is having its clasp replaced, so that they can have more time to search for it. Then, when it still hasn't come up, he seems to just jump to the conclusion that they have to replace it without informing Mme. Forestier:
At the end of a week they had lost all hope. And Loisel, aged by five years, declared:—
"We must see how we can replace those jewels." (86-87)
Given that, we think it's hard to lay the blame entirely at Mathilde's feet. Her husband is at least as responsible, if not more responsible, for not telling Mme. Forestier the truth about the necklace.
But why should we be laying blame at all? Pride certainly isn't the only thing that could motivate M. Loisel to jump to the conclusion he has to replace the necklace without telling Mme. Forestier. He doesn't seem like a proud man, quite the contrary. Given his humble circumstances, it could just as easily be fear that motivates him: he's afraid of what the wealthy Mme. Forestier will do if she finds out they've lost her necklace. Would you want to tell someone much richer and more powerful than you that you and your wife have just lost her fabulously expensive piece of jewelry?
On the other hand, M. Loisel could think that buying Mme. Forestier a new necklace secretly is the honorable thing to do. After all, if he and his wife told Mme. Forestier that they had lost the necklace (which as far as they're concerned is hugely expensive), the ball would be in her court, and there'd be a certain pressure on her to let them off the hook. She's got to know that they're not rich, and couldn't possibly afford a replacement. That wouldn't feel right to M. Loisel. He's an honorable fellow, and feels obliged to make up the loss.
So it could be pride, fear, or honor that motivates M. Loisel to do what he does. Most likely, we think, it's some mix of all three. Aren't people's motivations usually a bit jumbled?