Compare three of the short stories and examine their treatment of love and marriage.
The three short stories I have chosen to compare are “News of the Engagement”, “The Unexpected” and “Twenty-six Men and a Girl”. All the stories were written around 1900 and at this time women were still viewed as housewives and mothers. Divorce was still socially unacceptable. Arnold Bennett the writer of “News of the Engagement” was a journalist who aimed his work at women. He grew up in Staffordshire in a not particularly well off family. Kate Chopin lived in New Orland’s when she wrote “The Unexpected”. Her short stories were viewed as being quite controversial when they were first written and were often been refused publication. Maxim Gorky who had a terrible childhood wrote “Twenty-six Men and a Girl”. He ran away at twelve and lived with the poorest people in society. He worked in a bakery in Russia, which is the setting of “Twenty-six Men and a Girl”.
In “News of the Engagement” Philip does not see his mother as something that could be loved in a sexual way. Nor that someone could possibly fall in love with her and she with him. As she is maternal and her role is to be his cuddly mother waiting for him to arrive home with open arms.
“My little plump mother”.
He assumes that everything she does is for his benefit. Even when there is a third place set at the table he presumes it is for his partner not for his mother:
“In some way or another she must have discovered the state of my desires towards Agnes.”
He does not see that she might want to re-marry and get on with her life. It is obvious Philip considers himself above his mother and that he was her sole purpose for living.
“You see, I wrote to my mother regularly every week, telling her most of my doings. She knew all my friends by name.”
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As Arnold Bennett did not grow up in a particularly affluent environment it may explain his portrayal of Philip. A pompous, boring, narrow-minded man who was spoilt by his mother from birth.
“She had always other things to do; she was ‘preparing’ for me.”
It is possible that Arnold Bennett saw the stereotypical role of the rich (Philip) and used this to show that people can learn from their mistakes and grow as a person. As at the end of the novel Philip recognises his mother as a separate person and matures considerably.
“I said nothing about my own engagement that night. I had never though of my mother as a women with a future...So I decided that I would not intrude my joy on hers until the next morning. We live and learn.”
In “The Unexpected”, the typical male and female stereotypes are reversed. Normally, we would assume that the male would be the one to base his love of physical appearance. The beginning of the story is very melodramatic
“…the parting was bitter; the enforced separation seemed to them too cruel an ordeal to bear. The good-bye dragged with lingering kisses and sighs, and with more kisses and more clinging till the last wrench came.”
The separation seems very difficult and they both seem deeply in love with passion consuming them. Dorethea is incredibly impatient to see Randall. She is tormented every day by the inability to be with him.
“...Dorethea had reached the limit of her endurance.”
In Randall’s final letter to Dorettea before their last meeting, there is a very physical description of how much he needs her; this shows that they do have a very physical relationship.
“...to appease the hunger for her presence, the craving for her lips that had been devouring him.”
However, when Dorethea saw him in poor physical condition, the atmosphere changes dramatically. It now feels artificial and contrived.
“…all the strength of his body had concentrated in the clasp- the grasp with which he clung to her hand.”
The use of words such as: “clasp…grasp…clung” makes something innocent, loving and tender into an unpleasant ordeal.
“His skin was waxy and hectic, red upon the cheek-bones. His eyes were sunken; his features pinched and prominent; and his clothing hung loosely upon his wasted frame.”
This is a great contrast to the portrait, which hung from her wall. She was in love with the “almost perfect specimen.”
She loved for his physical looks and when they detiorated, she is left with nothing to love him for.
“‘...You will come back, well and strong; it will be enough then,’ and to herself she was saying: ‘never, never, never!’”
When Randall insists that the marriage should commence immediately, Dorethea procrastinates. But Randall is adamant that:
“…the strongest of us cannot count upon life. If the worst should come I want you to have all I possess.”
This could be seen as blackmail. Dorethea should accept Randall’s illness as if he does pass away she will be left with his riches. This shows another stereotype; that women are the ‘gold diggers’ and marry for money. Dorethea however refuses his offer of everything he owned. This is an unexpected reaction for the stereotypical role that women should follow. She has no interest for his money as she presumably has enough herself.
“‘Never!’ she whispered, ‘not for all his thousands! Never, never! Not for millions!’”
At the end of the short story Dorethea flees from any thoughts of Randall and anything that could tie him to her. She rides as if Randall was pursuing her.
“…bent her supple body to one purpose- that was swiftest flight.”
She now relishes her freedom and is at one with nature. She does not want to be tied down to marriage especially to Randall. This is usually a male perspective of marriage even today! A stereotypical view of marriage is often of the loss of freedom rather than one of the greatest moments of their lives. Dorethea simply discards him and his decaying body.
This Story shows that women too can superficially love for purely physical attraction and that when this is gone money can not always buy them over. It shows that women can also see marriage as a hindrance rather than a blessing. I can understand how this story could be seen as ‘shocking’ at the time of which it was written. It was not seen as appropriate for women to have a view of marriage as Dorethea does in the story. This Short Story is similar to “News of the Engagement” as they both find flaws within stereotypes.
In “Twenty-six Men and a Girl”, the men’s miserable existence is made worth living by a sixteen-year-old girl called Tanya. She was innocent and pure not a slut like the other women who worked above them.
“Ugly, dirty, ignorant, we would stand there and look up at her.”
Their job is boring and repetitive with desperately unpleasant conditions and pay. The men wanted to believe she was something almost godly. They never really knew Tanya they just imagined what she was like outside there “stone box”. The “convicts” idolise her and she is their embodiment of purity. She;
“…took the place of the sun in our hearts.”
I think that Tanya used the men as a source for free food.
“Hey, convicts, let’s have the pretzels then!”
However I also think that they also use her. They needed someone or something to idolise and respect. Without this tiny ray of light their gloomy existence may have seemed pointless. I think that if many aspects of your life are undesirable the need for an idol or an attractive event is very important. Without anything to look forward to the time drags by very slowly and their continued existence may seem pointless. Whether it is spending your wages or the simple appearance of a six-teen year old girl. I do not think this applies to only those in a poverty stricken environment. It can also be applied to training a dog; once the dog has learnt a new skill you reward it with a treat. Without this treat I doubt whether the dog would ever repeat the skill.
At the time of which this story was written the view of women had a strict dividing line. On one side were those who were like a daughter; pure with their virginity intact and on the other side were dirty, sluttish women.
Tanya then fails to resist a pompous, lascivious soldier and in the men’s eyes, their idol has toppled. She had crossed the line and had now become a common slag. She was reduced to the level of the other loose-moraled women:
“We surrounded her and reviled her maliciously, without restraint, heaping obscenities on her.”
I think this story shows you can love someone for who you imagine them to be even if you never really know them. The workers never really knew Tanya; they built up an image of her in their minds. When their image was annihilated by her behaviour they were heart broken. They imagined Tanya as a stereotype virgin goddess. The stereotype was once again obliterated as it was in the other two short stories.
Each Short Story treats love and marriage in a different way this may be because of different circumstances. They were all written in different counties but they are all controversial. “News of the Engagement” by its view on mothers re-marrying. “The Unexpected” for its stereotypical role reversal. “Twenty-six men and a girl” as it questions the need for icons in a poverty stricken life style. In each story stereotypes of people are followed and then abolished.