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Maupassant: The Necklace

The story goes like this: Mathilde a lower-middle-class woman, but has since childhood fancied herself a member of the aristocracy. Her husband, a clerk, loves her but is unable to pay for the life she wants.

What he IS able to do, however, is get them tickets to an exclusive soiree. She bursts into tears because she has no dress. He gives her the money he’s saved for a hunting trip to buy a dress. She’s upset because she has no jewels to wear, and he suggests she borrow a necklace from her friend. A diamond necklace catches her eye, and while Mathilde hesitates to ask to borrow it, her friend says “of course” without a moment of doubt.

At the party, Mathilde is a success, but returning home, she realizes she’s lost the necklace. They find an exact replica for 36,000 francs — they have half, and they borrow the rest. Maupassant writes that Mathilde's husband “compromised the rest of his life, risked signing notes without knowing if he could ever honor them…terrified by the anguish still to come.”

Mathilde and her husband drastically change their lives: They live in poverty; she takes job after job to pay off the debt. For 10 years they toil until the debts are repaid. Mathilde runs into her friend after a decade, and when her friend comments that she didn't recognize her, Mathilde says that’s all her friend’s fault. In recounting the story of the necklace, her friend takes her hands and says that the original necklace was fake — worth 500 francs at most. The story ends here. Or it just begins. Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” sticks with you, like a faulty clasp. It’s a textbook example of dramatic irony, but it’s also a moment for us to pause and question our assumptions.

Today’s Contemplation: What’s real? What’s fake? What stories do we tell ourselves, and how do those stories affect our lives (for better or for worse)? Can you consider something in your life that you hold to be real and as long-lasting as a diamond and imagine what would change if it was, in fact, fluid and false? And are the metaphorical necklaces in your life, in fact, making you happy? Or are they an accessory (much like a real necklace) to the happiness itself?