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)
Mathilde's the happiest she's ever been when everyone is admiring her. For once in her life, she can live up to the expectations her vanity has set for itself.
He threw over her shoulders the wraps he had brought to go home in, modest garments of every-day life, the poverty of which was out of keeping with the elegance of the ball dress. She felt this, and wanted to fly so as not to be noticed by the other women, who were wrapping themselves up in rich furs. (56)
After a successful evening at the ball, Mathilde's too proud to let herself be seen wearing her shabby wrap. She needs to keep up the illusion. It could be that her rushing off like this is what causes her to lose the necklace.
"Yes. You did not notice it, even, did you? They were exactly alike?"
And she smiled with proud and naïve joy. (126-127)
Mathilde is even more proud to learn that Mme. Forestier didn't notice the difference between her original necklace and the substitute. It adds extra validation to her work: she did fully make up for losing the necklace.
"I brought you back another just like it. And now for ten years we have been paying for it. You will understand that it was not easy for us, who had nothing. At last, it is done, and I am mighty glad." (122)
Mathilde is proud of all the work and suffering she and her husband have put into repaying for the necklace. It was an honorable and difficult thing to do. But they've succeeded.
Mme. Loisel learned the horrible life of the needy. She made the best of it, moreover, frankly, heroically. The frightful debt must be paid. She would pay it. (98)
When Mathilde becomes poor, she is forced to work. Getting down to work and paying off the debts seems to make her proud in a new way. She can be proud of her hard work, and of her endurance. Meanwhile, her looks – which used to be her pride and joy – start to disappear.
She saw at first bracelets, then a necklace of pearls, then a Venetian cross of gold set with precious stones of an admirable workmanship. She tried on the ornaments before the glass, hesitated, and could not decide to take them off and to give them up. She kept on asking: –
"You haven't anything else?" (45-46)
OK, so the jewel situation looks better: Mathilde's found a treasure trove of the things. But she's still not satisfied. None of them makes her look as good as she wants to look. Her vanity once again seems to be making her greedy.
She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs. All these things, which another woman of her caste would not even have noticed, tortured her and made her indignant. (3)
Mathilde feels herself to be better than her circumstances. She deserves more than she has, and is angry at the universe because she isn't getting it. Her dissatisfaction seems intimately connected to pride.
"Nothing. Only I have no clothes, and in consequence I cannot go to this party. Give your card to some colleague whose wife has a better outfit than I." (21)
Instead of being happy with the invitation her husband has worked so hard to get, Mathilde's first reaction is to be angry about it. If she's going to go, she just has to look the best, and she doesn't have any clothes that are nice enough Is she ever happy? Then again, would you want to go to the one nice party you've been invited to looking shabby? It's hard to tell whether Mathilde's vanity, or greed, is making her overreact, or whether she does have nothing nice to wear.
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)
Why does it never occur to Mathilde or M. Loisel to tell Mme. Forestier they've lost the necklace? Instead, once they lose hope of finding it, M. Loisel decides the only solution is to buy a new one. Is he too proud to admit that it's been lost? Or is it something else? (See M. Loisel's "Character Analysis" for more of our thoughts on this.)
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)
Mathilde's husband is the opposite of Mathilde: he's happy with what he has. So far as he's concerned, there's nothing better than the good old stew his wife puts on the table every evening. All Mathilde can think of at the same moment is how much better things could be, and how she'd rather be elsewhere. It all seems too low to her.