The Other Two
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This essay discusses “The Other Two” by Edith Wharton. The short story is written from Waythorn’s point of view, as he talks about his lovely new wife and his changing opinion of her, as he comes across elements of her past, such as her previous two husbands Varick and Haskett and her daughter Lily Haskett. According to the story, Alice (the new wife) was first married to Haskett, with whom she bore a daughter, Lily. Her second marriage was to Varick, and finally to Waythorn shortly thereafter. The story starts as the newlywed couple is forced to cut short its honeymoon due to Lily Haskett’s falling ill with typhoid, from which she soon recovers. During this time, due to Haskett’s paternal need to see his daughter, he utilizes legal powers granted to him in his divorce from Alice, and in doing so meets Waythorn. Varick and Waythorn meet due to a mutual business deal, which Waythorn is forced to engage in on behalf of his partner in business, who has fallen ill with gout. Waythorn is forced to come to terms with him being the third husband and work through his feelings about the two previous husbands of his new wife. The essay discusses the views that men held over women’s relationships towards them and their relationships towards women. It also looks into divorce, as seen in Waythorn’s story.
In the course of the story, Waythorn compares himself to being a member of a syndicate. This peek into Waythorn’s way of thinking tells a lot about how men perceived women, including their wives, in those days. In this case, Waythorn sees Alice as being too accepting of the desires of her husbands and willing to do anything for them, especially him, in order to avoid confrontation. In those days, the husband was seen to be the final authority in a household and wives were expected to defer to their husbands’ wishes in all matters. However, Alice is seen to be too accepting even for Waythorn to the extent that he sees her as being superficial with no deep character of her own. This is clearly seen in Alice’s ability to change her personality to suit the present husband’s desires. Due to this lack of a deeper character, the final Alice Waythorn, as described in the story, is made up of bits of personality gained from her marriage to Hackett and Varick. In short, Alice Waythorn holds within her elements of Alice Hackett and Alice Varick. If it were a business entity, Waythorn would hold shares in Alice, as did Hackett and Varick, thus he compares himself to a member of a syndicate.
Another incidence that gives insight into the relationships between men and women in those days is when Waythorn after the heavy mental conflict upon meeting Hackett on seeing the beauty of Alice in the lamplight claims to feel the joy of possessorship, which distracts him from his thoughts. This claim of possession that Waythorn holds over Alice is a feature of marriages at the time that the story takes place. In those days, a wife in marriage was viewed as being a possession of her husband. She was expected to conform to his wishes and do all it took to keep him happy and, if possible, improve his social standing. She did not have a voice on her own. Her body belonged to her husband and thus Waythorn’s seeing her features, such as her hands, lips, and eyes as belonging to him. However, though this has been the tradition until that time, it is seen to be in the process of changing as the wives are granted a voice by the law courts in their divorces, such as the ones Alice has gone through with her two previous husbands. At that time this was still a very new idea and could have severe repercussions on a woman’s social standing. Alice is able to overcome this due to her unperturbed, self-possessed, and somehow confident way of carrying herself. Many people at that time had yet to come to terms with this development, and one of them was Waythorn.
At a certain point in the story, Waythorn thinks of Alice as being like a shoe that has been worn by too many feet. This is after the conclusion of Waythorn and Varick’s business together, when Waythorn spots Alice chatting with Varick. When asked about it, Alice said she only spoke to him as it would have been less awkward, but that she was ready to change that if that was what her husband Waythorn wanted. This statement grated on Waythorn, who is seen to want a woman with a stronger will than Alice was displaying at the time. Alice was seen to choose the path that avoided confrontation at all costs and the path of least resistance in her relationships with her husbands.
By describing her as a shoe that has been worn by too many feet, Waythorn refers to Alice’s elasticity and flexibility in always deferring to her husband’s wishes at all times. Literally, compared to a new shoe, an old shoe has already developed curves for the toes and would fit most feet without pinching. In her first marriage, Alice may have had a few rough edges, but these were worn away during the course of the marriage. They were worn further away in the second marriage such that by the time of her marriage to Waythorn, she had adapted the “best-fit” character that would do for every one and that was deferring to the husband’s wishes. At the time, this may have been encouraged in women, as they were expected to be submissive to their husbands in all matters. Waythorn is seen to be a little different from other men, as he desires a woman that showed a stronger character than Alice was displaying.
In conclusion, it is seen that at the time the story took place several ideas on how a husband and a wife should conduct themselves already existed. The wife was supposed to be subservient to her husband and defer to his wishes at all times. However, times were changing, as evidenced by Alice’s two divorces, as women were finding a voice through the courts of law. Social manners and appearance to the outside world were of paramount importance at those times, as people strove not to embarrass themselves in front of their peers. Both, Alice and Waythorn are seen to be different from the norm at that time, Alice considering her two divorces and Waythorn in his desire for a strong willed wife.
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