Study Guide

The Necklace Suffering

By Guy de Maupassant

Suffering

The Necklace
Mathilde Loisel

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. The sight of the little girl from Brittany who did her humble housework awoke in her desolated regrets and distracted dreams. (3)

Mathilde is unhappy locked up in her house, just being there makes her suffer. She finds it oppressive. Her only method of coping with it is to live in a dream world. The question is, does Mathilde just suffer because she's excessively greedy? Or does she suffer because her life is boring and meaningless?

She danced with delight, with passion, intoxicated with pleasure, thinking of nothing, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness made up of all these tributes, of all the admirations, of all these awakened desires, of this victory so complete and so sweet to a woman's heart. (54)

This represents Mathilde's one moment of genuine joy. It's just about the only such moment in the whole story, and forms a high point between two long bouts of unhappiness.

And he went out. She stayed there, in her ball dress, without strength to go to bed, overwhelmed, on a chair, without a fire, without a thought. (79)

The object which made Mathilde's glorious night possible has become her worst nightmare just a few hours later. She's so traumatized she can't even get out of her chair. How quickly the situation reverses. The fact that Mathilde's hasn't even changed out of her lovely ball gown captures that reversal in an image.

And she wept all day long, from chagrin, from regret, from despair, and from distress. (6)

In case you needed any additional proof that Mathilde is miserable, she spends all day crying. Her life has essentially nothing enjoyable in it.

He gave promissory notes, made ruinous agreements, dealt with usurers, with all kinds of lenders. He compromised the end of his life, risked his signature without even knowing whether it could be honored; and, frightened by all the anguish of the future, by the black misery which was about to settle down on him, by the perspective of all sorts of physical deprivations and of all sorts of moral tortures, he went to buy the new diamond necklace, laying down on the jeweler's counter thirty-six thousand francs. (94)

Mathilde's not the only one suffering now. By losing the necklace, she's ruined her husband's life too. He's gone from living a comfortable life to a life plagued by fear and uncertainty. M. Loisel knows at this point that life is about to get unpleasant, and he's afraid.

What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows? Who knows? How singular life is, how changeable! What a little thing it takes to save you or to lose you. (106)

You could say that last sentence sums up the whole story. All it took was one little thing – losing one piece of jewelry after a party one night – to completely change the course of the Loisels' life forever. If only Mathilde had paid more attention for an hour or so that night, she wouldn't have lost the necklace, and everything would be different. People's lives are so terribly vulnerable to chance; it's almost too easy to ruin them.

She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education. (1)

The opening line of the story makes it sound as if Mathilde is almost fated to be unhappy. It's only chance – being born into one family and not another – that prevents her from living the kind of life she so wants to lead. Naturally, she's attractive and charming, and if she were born into a rich family rather than an average one, she'd have the life she wanted. Something that's a result of luck – what family she's born into – becomes a fate fore her, because it restricts the possibilities for the rest of her life.

She learned the rough work of the household, the odious labors of the kitchen. She washed the dishes, wearing out her pink nails on the greasy pots and the bottoms of the pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and the towels, which she dried on a rope; she carried down the garbage to the street every morning, and she carried up the water, pausing for breath on every floor. And, dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, a basket on her arm, bargaining, insulted, fighting for her wretched money, sou by sou. (99)

Now Mathilde has to live the life of a poor woman, and it's a hard life: dirty, busy, and exhausting. Where before she had a maid to do her work (and could spend the day dreaming or crying), now Mathilde has to do all the house chores herself, and they're never ending. She can no longer even afford to be graceful or charming; she has to be rough and aggressive, because she's so poor that she has to pick fights over pennies. Her "dissatisfied" life before has been replaced by real suffering.

Mme. Jeanne Forestier

"Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine were false. At most they were worth five hundred francs!" (128)

Mathilde's just found and out that she and her husband have spent the last ten years suffering to replace a fake necklace not worth a fiftieth of what they thought. Mathilde could have avoided the whole situation if she'd only told Mme. Forestier about it and found out it was a fake. But she didn't, and so all the suffering she and her husband have gone through was for nothing. Suffering becomes a whole lot worse if it seems meaningless.

M. Loisel

It brought them to their door, rue des Martyrs; and they went up their own stairs sadly. For her it was finished. And he was thinking that he would have to be at the Ministry at ten o'clock. (61)

And just like that, the fabulous night at the ball is over. The happiness was fleeting, and is replaced by the dull unhappiness of daily life.

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