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Literature / The Necklace

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"The Necklace" is an 1884 short story by Guy de Maupassant.

A young, lower middle class couple borrows some nice clothes and jewelry from an upper class friend to wear to a party. During the course of the party, the lady, named Mathilde, loses the stunning necklace that she borrowed from her friend. Hiding the truth, the couple sell their house and take out an exceedingly harsh loan to buy a diamond necklace to replace it, and work for the next ten years to pay back the debt...only to be told at the end of the story by the lady's friend that the original necklace was costume jewelry, worth only a couple of dollars at the most.


Tropes used by the story:

  • An Aesop: Admit to your mistakes up front; trying to run away from them will only make things worse.
  • All for Nothing: Mathilde and her husband work themselves for ten years to repay a debt of a necklace that was completely cheaper than their replacement and could've avoided their embarrassment if they just told the truth.
  • Broken Treasure: Deconstructed. It turns out that the 'treasure' isn't what it seems to be, and was worth substantially less than its replacement.
  • Break the Haughty: Matilde's desire for finer things than what she and her husband can afford are partly what gets them into the mess in the first place. By the end of the story, she's had to go through a lot to pay for that one moment of indulgence.
  • Foreshadowing: There's some hint that the necklace isn't as valuable as Mathilde — obsessed with appearances as she is — thinks it to be, judging by how casually her friend lets her borrow it, and how the clasp easily broke.
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  • Karmic Twist Ending: Mathilde borrows a diamond necklace from her wealthier friend to wear at a state gala. She ends up losing it, and instead of telling her friend the truth, she and her husband have a replacement made and return that one, borrowing so much money that they end up struggling in debt for ten years. Just after they finally repay all the loans, she sees her friend for the first time in a decade and tells the woman the story of the necklace. Her horrified friend then informs her that the necklace had been fake and was only worth one-seventieth of what they paid for the replacement.
  • Idiot Ball: You’d think Mathilde who borrowed the necklace would have at least momentarily wondered why a piece of jewelry supposedly worth thousands upon thousands of francs would break and fall off her neck.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: After paying off the necklace, Mathilde and her husband are poor and must work to survive. Mathilde starts losing her looks as a result and by the time she meets her friend, she's unrecognizable.
  • Mock Millionaire: Mathilde's lady friend. Of her assorted collection of jewelry, the most valuable-looking of the lot is that fake necklace, and it's very likely her other jewels are probably duplicates as well.
  • Never Lend to a Friend: Mathilde borrows a diamond necklace from her friend, loses it, and pays her and her husband's life savings for that necklace.
  • Never My Fault: While it's understandable that Mathilde feels resentful after ten years of misery, she claims that all the suffering was because of her friend, when she reveals the truth to her. If Mathilde had told the truth a decade before, she wouldn't be in this mess.
  • No Antagonist: It's arguable that Pride is the worst enemy of Mathilde and her husband.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: When Mathilde meets her friend again at the end of the story, the friend doesn't recognise her at first because of all she's gone through to pay off the second necklace.
  • No Name Given: Of the young couple, only Mathilde's name is given, her husband and friend's are not.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Not admitting to the lost necklace, or that the necklace was fake in the first place, resulted in Matilde and her husband working themselves ragged to replace a piece of costume jewelry with a real one. Even worse, Matilde's husband brought it up, only to fall on deaf ears. At the same time, had the friend told that the necklace was a cheap knockoff, things wouldn't have been become so dire.
  • Pride: The cause of the heroine's troubles is that she didn't want to admit to losing the necklace — had she unbent enough to tell the truth, she would have been spared a lot of suffering.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: This story's version of the trope is so strong, it nearly crosses over to Shoot the Shaggy Dog territory (if the reader wasn't laughing from the story's cruel irony). What saves it from that extreme is that the situation could have been very easily avoided, had Matilde not been so deathly prideful and she and her husband simply admitted that they lost the necklace in the first place. (Admittedly, it also could have been avoided if the friend had simply told her the necklace was an imitation right from the start!)
  • Storm in a Teacup: Played for drama.
  • Wham Line: The last line delivered by Mathilde's friend. In certain republised versions, the story literally ends after said line.
    " Oh my poor Mathilde! My necklace is made of paste! It's worth at most 700 francs!"