The main characters, Mathilde Loisel and her husband, are introduced. Mathilde is described as a charming young woman who was born into a poor family as if by accident. She often fantasizes of what it look be like to live in the upper class. "When she sat down to dinner at her round table with its three-day old cloth...she would visualize elegant dinners with gleaming silver amid tapestried walls peopled by knights and ladies and exotic birds..." (page 374)
One night, Mathilde's husband proudly presents her with an invitation to an "evening reception", as he is probably aware of her fantasies. Instead of being excited like he hopes, she was annoyed, for she didn't have anything to wear to the ball, which didn't even cross his mind. He reluctantly gives her 400 francs to buy an evening dress. "He fell silent, amazed and bewildered to see that his wife was crying. Two big tears escaped from the corners of her eyes..." (page 375)
It's a broom, okay?
After Mathilde's dress arrives, she then realizes she doesn't have any jewelry to wear to the ball. So, she visits her friend Madame Forestier, who lets her borrow anything she wants. She soon finds a beautiful necklace to borrow. The big night arrives, and everything goes great; everyone wanted to dance with her. "All at once, in a box lined with black satin, she came upon a superb diamond necklace...[She put in on and] stood there gazing at herself ecstatically." (page 376)
The ball ends, and Mathilde and her husband walk home. When Mathilde takes off her wraps to see herself one last time, she realizes, to her horror, the necklace is gone. Her husband searches everywhere they've been, but cannot find it. Mathilde writes a letter to Madame Forestier telling her they are mending the necklace, which gives them more time. A week passes, and the necklace hasn't turned up. "Then she cried out. The necklace was gone; there was nothing around her neck." (page 377)
Mathilde and her husband decide they must replace the necklace. They find one just like the one they lost, which costs 34,000 francs. They go into crippling debt to buy it and give it to Madame Forestier. They then dismiss their maid, and spend the next 10 years working to pay off the loans. "[She] came to know the awful life of the poverty-stricken. However, she resigned herself to it with unexpected fortitude...She came to know all the heavy household chores..." (page 379)
One day, Mathilde decides to take a walk when she encounters Madame Forestier. At first, Madame Forestier doesn't recognize her, as her physical appearance had changed from all that work. Mathilde explains that she lost the necklace, and that she had to work for 10 years to pay for another. Madame Forestier, moved, explains her old necklace was not real. "[Madame Forestier] took Mathilde's hands in her own...'Mine was false. It was worth five hundred francs at the most!'" (page 380)