In “The Necklace,” Guy de Maupassant demonstrates the importance of knowing how to achieve happiness in a meaningful and lasting way. At the beginning of the story, Mathilde and her husband live a modest life, but with enough money to live comfortably. However, Mathilde is perpetually discontented, unable to be happy without the clothes and jewels of a wealthy woman. Although Mathilde achieves a fleeting moment of happiness during the party, the next ten years of her life are filled with true suffering, in sharp contrast with her earlier self-pity which seemed out of sync with the comfortable life she lived. By experiencing true poverty, Mathilde gains a new perspective on life and learns to be satisfied with what she has.
Mathilde’s initial unhappiness seems like a choice: she lives a perfectly pleasant life and could easily be contented with it, but instead of focusing on the good things she has, Mathilde obsesses over what she doesn’t have, driving her to discontent. Maupassant points out that the things that make Mathilde so unhappy “wouldn’t have even been noticed by any other woman of her station,” which suggests that Mathilde’s temperament is not a result of privation, but rather it is a character flaw. Furthermore, unlike Mathilde, her husband is able to be happy with their lot: he says, “Ah! A good stew! I don’t know of anything better.” This demonstrates that happiness is, at least in part, a matter of perception or of choice.
Even when Mathilde experiences a rare moment of happiness at the party, Maupassant depicts this happiness as fleeting: the party only lasts a night, and her happiness is entirely dependent on her possession of the dress and the necklace. During the party Mathilde is in a “cloud of happiness,” giving the scene a dreamlike quality, almost as if it were too good to be true. However, once the necklace is gone her happiness vanishes. As soon as the Loisels leave the party, they are “desperate and shivering,” and at the end of the night, Mathilde remarks “it is over.”
After Mathilde has been forced to spend ten years suffering to pay off the debt she incurred after losing the necklace, she seems paradoxically more content. The fact that Mathilde is able to play her part “with sudden heroism” shows that she is no longer prey to the self-pity and dissatisfaction that characterized her in the first part of the story. She also develops a new sense of perspective with regard to happiness and suffering. At the end of the story, she remarks: “What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows? Who can say? How little there is between happiness and misery!” The idea that things could have turned out differently shows that Mathilde has learned that happiness is not simply a matter of owning more money or more things, and the fact that her idle thoughts are contemplations of happiness and misery rather than the self-pitying daydreams of wealth she had before shows that she has become more grounded through her experience of suffering.
Mathilde’s new ideas on life and on happiness illustrate the idea that it is better to accept one’s lot in life than to fight against it. Moreover, by experiencing a truly difficult existence, Mathilde develops a new perspective on the privileges and small comforts of her earlier life. Although Mathilde is not happy in her new life, she is more grounded in reality and she is newly willing to accept things for the way they are.
Happiness Quotes in The Necklace
Unable to adorn herself, she remained simple, but as miserable as if she’d come down in the world. For women have no caste or breed; their beauty, their grace, and their charm serve them in lieu of birth and family background. Their native finesse, their instinct for elegance, their versatile minds are their sole hierarchy, making shopgirls the equals of the grandest ladies.
She suffered endlessly, feeling that she was meant for all delicacies and all luxuries. She suffered from the poverty of her apartment, the dinginess of the walls, the shabbiness of the chairs, the ugliness of the fabrics. All these things, which wouldn’t have even been noticed by any other woman of her station, tortured her and infuriated her. The sight of the Breton girl who did her humble housework aroused woeful regrets in her and desperate dreams.
Whenever she sat down for supper at the circular table covered with the same tablecloth for three days, she faced her husband, who, removing the lid from the tureen, ecstatically declared: “Ah! A good stew! I don’t know of anything better!”
But she fantasized about elegant dinners, about shiny silverware, about tapestries filling the walls with ancient figures and exotic birds in the midst of a magic forest; she fantasized about exquisite courses served in wondrous vessels, about gallantries whispered and listened to with sphinxlike smiles, while the diners consumed the rosy flesh of a trout or the wings of a grouse.
The night of the ball was approaching, and Madame Loisel appeared sad, worried, anxious. Still, her gown was ready.
One evening, her husband said to her: “Listen, what’s wrong? You’ve been acting funny for three days now.”
And she replied: “I’m annoyed that I don’t have any jewelry—not a single gem, nothing to put on. I’ll look downright poverty-stricken. I’d almost rather not go to the ball.”
Madame Loisel looked first at some bracelets, then at a pearl necklace, then at a marvelously crafted Venetian cross made up of gold and precious stones. She tried the pieces on before the mirror, wavering, unsure whether to keep them or leave them. She kept asking: “Don’t you have anything else?”
“Of course. Keep searching. I can’t tell what you’ll like.”
All at once, in a black satin box, Madame Loisel unearthed a superb diamond necklace, and her heart began pounding with unrestrained desire. Her hands trembled when she picked up the necklace. She placed it on her throat, against her high-necked dress, and remained ecstatic in front of her reflection.
[The carriage] brought them to their front door on Rue des Martyrs, and they sadly trudged up to their apartment. It was all over for her. And as for him, he knew he had to be at the Ministry by ten a.m.
Madame Loisel now knew the horrible life of necessity….She performed the gross household tasks, the odious kitchen chores. She washed the dishes, wearing down her rosy nails on greasy pots and on the bottoms of pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and the dishcloths, and let them dry on a line. She lugged the garbage down to the street every morning and hauled up the water, stopping at every landing to catch her breath. And dressed like a pauper, she went to the produce store, the grocer, the butcher, her basket on her arm, haggling, insulted, defending her miserable cash sou by sou.