Gender plays a large role in this short story, as it did in 19th-century French society. In the story, Madame Loisel is a woman dissatisfied with her social class, but, as a woman, she can do nothing to change this position besides marrying someone of higher class. On this topic, Maupassant writes, "women belong to no caste, no race; their grace, their beauty, and their charm serving them in the place of birth and family."(p.31) Once married, she and her husband have very different goals that map across their gender roles; for example, at one point Mathilde’s weeping convinces M. Loisel to give her money for a new dress that he had planned to spend on a gun. When M. and Mme. Loisel are both forced to work due to their financial strain, they take on gendered jobs: she does housework and washes the clothes of others, and he takes on additional bookkeeping duties.
Works of Literary Realism often focus on the theme of social class, and "The Necklace" is certainly an example of this. Mme. Loisel's greatest concern is her own social class, especially the way she is perceived in society in virtue of her appearance and attire. It is her focus on social class that causes her to borrow a necklace to wear to a party to which she and her husband have been invited; in an ironic twist, this very necklace results in them becoming even lower in social class when they lose it and must work to pay for a replacement.
This short story questions whether beauty is inherent or rather imbued in something in virtue of its social value. One example of this is Mme. Loisel's reaction when she sees Mme. Forestier's necklace: even though it is made of fake jewels, her belief that it is made of real diamonds causes her to quake from its beauty. Another example is Mme. Loisel herself. At the party, Mme. Loisel feels beautiful and is desired by many men at the party because of her beauty. However, it is unclear whether she would have been considered beautiful without the necklace and whether perhaps her beauty came from the confidence that the necklace gave her.
Though marriages were not officially arranged in 19th century France, Maupassant reflects the reality of his society: "[Mathilde] had no dowry, no hopes, no means of becoming known, appreciated, loved, and married by a man either rich or distinguished; and she allowed herself to marry a petty clerk in the office of the Board of Education"(p.31). Women generally did not hold jobs and thus had little control over their social status besides through marriage. Thus the beginning of "The Necklace" depicts an unhappy marriage largely because Mme. Loisel yearns for the lavish life that her husband cannot provide her. However, once her actions have driven both herself and her husband to a lower social class and years of burdensome work, their marriage seems to improve and the couple is able to cooperate.
One surprisingly uplifting theme of this short story is the fact that it seems happiness comes from being content with whatever one has. When Mme. Loisel has a middling social status but desires to be higher in society, she spends her days yearning and weeping. However, once she and her husband have been driven to toil for ten years, she seems content and sometimes nostalgic, happier than she was before. In fact, when she tells Mme. Forestier of the work she has done for ten years to pay off the replacement necklace, Maupassant writes that she "smiled with a proud and simple joy"(p.38).
The Necklace Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Necklace is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
At the ball, Madame Loisel is a hit: elegant, joyful, and desired for waltzes. She and M. Loisel return home at nearly 4 o’clock in the morning, and only when they arrive home does Mme. Loisel realize she lost the necklace.