The Surprise Ending and Irony
“The Necklace” is most famous for its “whip-crack” or “O. Henry” ending. O. Henry, who wrote during the late 1800s, was famous for his twist endings that turned stories on their heads. In “The Necklace,” the surprise ending unhinges the previously implied premise of the story. Until this point, the reader has been able to interpret Mathilde’s ten years of poverty as penance for her stolen night of pleasure at the party and for carelessly losing the borrowed necklace. The ending shatters that illusion, revealing that the ten years of misery were unnecessary and could have been avoided if only Mathilde had been honest with Madame Forestier. Losing the necklace had seemed to be Mathilde’s fatal mistake, but it was actually Mathilde’s failure to be truthful with Madame Forestier that sealed her fate. This shocking realization sheds new light on the previous events and suggests that Mathilde’s future—even though her debts are now repaid—will be none too rosy.
The horrible irony of the fact that the Loisels spent years paying off a replacement for what was actually a worthless necklace is just one instance of irony evident in “The Necklace.” Also ironic is the fact that Mathilde’s beauty, which had been her only valued asset, disappears as a result of her labor for the necklace. She had borrowed the necklace to be seen as more beautiful and winds up losing her looks completely. Perhaps the most bitter irony of “The Necklace” is that the arduous life that Mathilde must assume after losing the necklace makes her old life—the one she resented so fully—seem luxurious. She borrows Madame Forestier’s necklace to give the appearance of having more money than she really does, only to then lose what she does have. She pays doubly, with her money and looks, for something that had no value to begin with.