The Worth of the Diamond Necklace
The French have long been known for their opulence, which is manifested in their fashion and elegance. It is little wonder that any girl born on French soil should long for such a lavish lifestyle. However, not all are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. There are people who are born into nondescript families. Mathilde was born into such a family, but she felt that fate had shortchanged her. She felt that she should have been high-born and should have lived a life of more elegance than she was living. Mathilde’s desirous longing for the high life led her to borrow a necklace that eventually brought upon her abject poverty and suffering. The necklace that should have symbolized elegance and beauty for one dream night turned out to be a figurative chain of poverty and labor for Mathilde.
Mathilde longed for a luxurious lifestyle. She felt an incessant feeling of depression because of her life. Her family had not been wealthy, and she therefore learnt early in life not to ask for too much. We are told that her tastes were simple, because she could not afford anything else. Had she been given the capability, her demands might have been too much. However, as it were, she had a simple taste that was congruent to the life she lived. Nevertheless, her heart ached for a better life. She felt tormented that she could not display her beauty in the same way as most other beautiful ladies did. This extreme longing robbed her of her self-esteem, and she constantly felt dejected.
The invitation by the Ministry of Education to the ball revealed years of pent-up frustrations that Mathilde had until then kept to herself. Her husband spent much effort trying to convince her to attend the party. Ironically, her husband seemed to care for her so much. The story reveals that Mathilde’s main undoing was her discontentment. In spite of her husband’s spirited effort to enable them lead the best life that they could afford, Matilde’s wishful thinking never came to an end. However, the necklace she borrowed from her friend, Madame Forestier, was about to change the course of her life forever.
In France, elegance was the hallmark of affluence. Adornment was the manifestation of an enviable life. Women would proclaim their worth simply by showing up at a party decked in the finest jewelry. Adornment not only complemented a woman’s beauty – it was a statement of her worth. For Mathilde, it was an esteem-booster. For her, it was far beyond beauty and worth. It was peace of mind, satisfaction and a dream-come-true. This begs the question whether she dreamed. Did Mathilde’s longings eventually lead to her downfall or was it just a date with fate?
The reader somewhat sympathizes with Mathilde. In her time, women had little significance other than to be trophies. Beauty certainly meant more to a woman in nineteenth-century France than it does in the twenty-first century. The nineteenth-century French woman had no other means of getting recognized apart from her beauty. Her only chance at an affluent life was to get married to a well-off man. To get there, she had to stand out. Indeed, as Maupassant points out in the story, women have no caste or class, and their charm, grace and beauty serves them for birth and family.
The necklace that she had borrowed from Madame Forestier did her the miracle she needed so badly. On the night of the occasion, Mathilde became the center of attraction. Even the minister noticed her. She was finally living her dream. Finally, she felt the ecstasy of being the most sought after lady. Happiness washed through her entire soul. She owed it all to the necklace, the piece of elegant workmanship that her friend had lent her. The necklace had made her live the one she needed so badly.
Figuratively, necklaces are a symbol of elegance. They are the ultimate piece of adornment. Just about any woman can wear an earring or a bracelet on any ordinary day. Necklaces, on the other hand, are mostly worn when there is an important occasion to attend. They are not the ordinary day-to-day adornments. They held much more significance in nineteenth-century France than they do now. Life then lent credence to the adage “image is everything”. For Mathilde, her image meant more than the life that she led. Although her husband afforded her a comfortable life, she was not content. She wished to share tables with the mentionable women and rub shoulders with the high and mighty. Even when her husband gave her four hundred francs to buy a beautiful dress, she insisted that she needed a necklace before she could attend the party.
The necklace that afforded her one night of happiness, one night of satisfaction, one night of attention also brought her ten years of suffering. When she lost the necklace, it is interesting to imagine what went through her mind. Did she admonish herself for wishing for a life that was beyond her reach? Did she think it was just another accident? Did she think there was a lesson to it? There is no telling whether or not she was remorseful for her overt wishful thinking. What a reader can tell is that Mathilde did not pay for the necklace, but she paid for her lack of contentment. After all, the necklace that she lost was only five hundred francs at most.
Whether or not the incident was meant to teach Mathilde a lesson, she did indeed learn a lesson. Matilda learnt the hard way that life could get much worse than she had ever thought or expected. The loss of the necklace threw her right out of the frying pan and into the fire. From being a lowly housewife whose husband could at the very least afford her some comfort, she became a poor laborer. The labors of everyday life took away what was left of her beauty. For ten years, poor Mathilde worked to repay a single necklace. It is difficult to imagine the pain, torment and agony she went through on account of a single necklace. Was it the necklace or was it a way of life? In essence, Mathilde was not paying for a simple diamond necklace. She was paying for biting more than she could swallow.
The necklace symbolizes the dream life of France. However, for Mathilde and her husband, it symbolizes ten dark years. It symbolizes years of vain work. It symbolizes the price to pay for the lack of contentment. A heavy lesson was there for Mathilde to learn. She finally saw how much it took to get to the place where she so badly wished to be. During the ten years of labor that she endured, she must have had little time to muse over her dreams. She was now occupied, and only few times she could spare a moment and do wishful thinking. Indeed, the necklace had its significance in Mathilde Loisel’s life. It taught her a valuable lesson that she needed to learn – to be content is the best.