Beautiful Mathilde Loisel was born into a family of clerks, and her utter conviction that her station in life is a mistake of destiny leads her to live her life in a constant rebellion against her circumstances. Although she has a comfortable home and loving husband, she is so unsatisfied that she is virtually oblivious of everything but the wealth she does not have. Her desire for wealth is a constant pain and turmoil. She cannot visit her wealthy friend Madame Forestier without being overcome with jealousy, and the idea of going to a party without expensive clothes drives her to tears. Mathilde is a raging, jealous woman who will do anything in her power to reverse the “mistake of destiny” that has plunged her into what she perceives as a wholly inappropriate and inadequate life.
Mathilde is happy at only one point in “The Necklace”: on the night of the party, when her new dress and borrowed jewels give her the appearance of belonging to the wealthy world she aspires to. Fully at ease among the wealthy people at the party, Mathilde feels that this is exactly where she was meant to be—if it hadn’t been for the mistake of destiny. She forgets her old life completely (her husband dozes in an empty room for most of the night) and immerses herself in the illusion of a new one. Her moment of happiness, of course, is fleeting, and she must spend the next ten years paying for the pleasure of this night. However, her joy was so acute—and her satisfaction, for once, so complete—that even the ten arduous years and her compromised beauty do not dull the party’s memory. Just as Mathilde was oblivious to the small pleasures that her life once afforded her, she is oblivious to the fact that her greed and deception are what finally sealed her fate.
Monsieur Loisel’s acceptance and contentment differ considerably from Mathilde’s emotional outbursts and constant dissatisfaction, and although he never fully understands his wife, he does his best to please her. When he comes home bearing the invitation to the party, he expects Mathilde to be excited and is shocked when she is devastated. He cannot understand why Mathilde will not wear flowers to the party in lieu of expensive jewelry—in his view, that they cannot afford expensive jewelry is simply a fact of their life, not something to be railed against. When Monsieur Loisel tries to appease Mathilde, he does so blindly, wanting only to make her happy. When she declares that she cannot attend the party because she has nothing to wear, he gives her money to purchase a dress. While she complains she has no proper jewelry, he urges her to visit Madame Forestier to borrow some. When she dances all night at the party, he dozes in a coat room and allows her to enjoy herself.
Monsieur Loisel’s eagerness and willingness to please Mathilde becomes his downfall when she loses the necklace. He is the one to venture back into the cold night to search for the necklace in the streets, even though he is already undressed and has to be at work in a few short hours. He is the one who devises a plan for purchasing a replacement necklace and orchestrates the loans and mortgages that help them pay for it. Although this decision costs him ten years of hard work, he does not complain or imagine an alternate fate. It is as though his desires do not even exist—or, at the very least, his desires are meaningless if they stand in the way of Mathilde’s. The money he gives her for a dress had been earmarked for a gun, but he sacrifices this desire without a word—just as he mutely sacrifices any hope of happiness after he buys the necklace. Rather than force Mathilde to be accountable for her actions, he protects her, ultimately giving up his life so that she can relish her one moment of well-dressed happiness.