This is part of a series of reprints from my classes. Once the class is over, I will lose these if I don't save them elsewhere. I've decided to post them here as they may be of some interest.
In the short story “The Necklace,” I believe that the necklace represents wealth, luxury, youth, and societal stature. The necklace is all that we covet; the things that are just beyond our reach. It is also a risk and a liability. Lastly, it is a façade and a lie.
When Matilda sacrifices so much to attain the necklace -- and the occasion to don it -- she risks all of the comfort and stature that she has attained. This effort is due to the envy she has of those around her that have greater stature; presumably those who were born of this stature. Her desire for this alternate lifestyle is so great that she is unable to appreciate the life she has.
After the necklace is lost the story turns from one of envy into one of strife. The character grows and is no longer concerned with the lifestyle of others. She is instead focused on finding the means to feed and clothe her family as well as pay back their numerous debts. This is the price paid for the sin of coveting. It is also the result of cost of losing her bet with fate.
When she finds that the necklace was a fake the definition changes slightly. I believe that this is to tell us that the images we perceive are not always what we believe them to be. The necklace that represented her ability to attain the lifestyle she envied was a forgery, and so too was that lifestyle. The friend she envied so greatly that she could not bear her presence wore fake jewels to appear of greater stature.
I believe the author’s intent was to demonstrate that we are usually better to live humbly than to spend all of our time and energy focused on what we have not. We do not have the necklace, and we may never have it. Even if we can obtain it, we may find that it was never real in the first place.