The Necklace: Mathilde Loisel Characterization & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Characterization
  • 1:31 Direct Characterization
  • 2:59 Indirect Characterization
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karen Harker

Karen has taught high school English and has a master's degree in Shakespearean Studies

This lesson will discuss how Mathilde Loisel is directly and indirectly characterized through her description, speech, and actions in Guy de Maupassant's short story 'The Necklace.'


Mathilde Loisel is the main character or protagonist of ''The Necklace,'' meaning the plot is centered around her. Understanding her character is the key to unlocking the themes and meaning of the story. In literature, characters can be presented to us in two ways: direct characterization and indirect characterization. Before talking about the story, let's explore these terms with an easier example: the characterization of Santa Claus!

Direct characterization means we are told, usually by the narrator of a story, exactly what to think about a character. For example, if Santa Claus was the main character of our story, he might be described as jolly and kind. This is direct characterization because we are told exactly what Santa Claus is like in a straightforward manner.

Indirect characterization is a bit more complex, because there are many ways that characters can be presented indirectly, such as through what they say, think, do, how they look, or how they affect other characters in the story.

To continue with our example, Santa Claus is sometimes indirectly characterized by his looks and actions, most famously by his rosy cheeks, white beard, red suit, and round belly that ''shakes when he laughs, like a bowl full of jelly''. We infer, or make an educated guess, about his personality and characterization based on these physical attributes and his action of laughing. While we aren't told outright that he is jolly and kind, we are given descriptors that help lead us to that conclusion.

Direct Characterization

The opening paragraphs of the story directly characterize Mathilde through definitive descriptions given by the narrator. We learn that she is ''one of those pretty and charming girls born, as though fate had blundered over her, into a family of artisans.'' This begins the story by pointing out what Mathilde doesn't have, something which continues as she is further characterized in the following sentences. We learn that she has ''no marriage portion, no expectation, no means of getting known, understood, loved, and wedded by a man of wealth and distinction'' as well as ''no clothes, no jewels, nothing''. Even the things she does have make her ''suffer endlessly'' as they serve only as reminders of the things she doesn't have, causing her to ''weep whole days, with grief, regret, despair, and misery.'' Little does Mathilde know that her life will soon get worse as she comes ''to know the ghastly life of abject poverty'' in trying to pay off the debt for a necklace she borrowed and lost.

Through the characterization in the opening paragraph, we understand Mathilde from the start of the story as a person who wants much more than what she has, but since she has no way of obtaining it, she puts herself into a place of suffering. We are told that while pretty and charming, Mathilde is obsessed with the things she doesn't have, embarrassed by her place in society, and jealous of those who have more than her. As the story unfolds into dialogue, and we begin reading conversations between Mathilde and her husband, more light is shed on her personality through the things she says and does.

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