A Reliable Wife - Part 1 - Wisconsin, Fall, 1907 - Chapters 1 and 2 Summary & Analysis

Robert Goolrick
This Study Guide consists of approximately 44 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of A Reliable Wife.
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Part 1 - Wisconsin, Fall, 1907 - Chapters 1 and 2 Summary

This novel of sexual intrigue, betrayal, and redemption is built around the experiences of two characters, Ralph Truitt and Catherine Land, who at first appear to be very different but are ultimately quite similar. As the narrative gradually peels back the many layers of secrets and sufferings in the lives of each of these deeply troubled characters, it also explores themes related to the power of sexual desire, the unpredictable nature of humanity, and the dangers of isolation.

Chapter 1: On a cold winter night in Wisconsin, with a blizzard looming, wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt waits on the platform of the train station for the train that is carrying his mail order bride. Ralph is awarethat the townspeople also on the platform are only there to see his bride and that those people both despise him for his loneliness) and need him for the jobs he provides for almost everyone in the town and is determined to not display any weakness. Ralph lost his wife, children, and many of his dreams twenty years before, and that he has striven hard to maintain an appearance of strength and consistency. While preparing to come to the station, Ralph studied his face in the mirror and realized that his appearance probably fooled no one since his desperation, need, loneliness, and the emotional barrenness of the last twenty years have taken their toll on his face. He is also described as being obsessed with sex and intimacy and with the vulnerability, the warmth of connection, the joy and the pleasure in both. He recalls the letter written to him by his bride, in which she included a photograph, which shows her to be quite plain and described herself as not looking for love but a home. Ralph agreed to her coming and even after waiting a long time and with the train being late, he feels he can wait a little longer.

Chapter 2: Catherine sits alone in the expensive compartment that Ralph had booked for her journey. Much as Ralph had stared into the mirror that morning, she too looks at herself in the mirror, recognizing her beauty, recalling how in the past it had brought her attention and a degree of happiness. She recalls a memory of traveling with her beautiful mother in the company of several attractive young men, her mother's death during the birth of her younger sister, and her eventual realization that she could not live without either love or money. After the porter tells her the train will be arriving in half an hour, she takes off her expensive clothes and throws them out a window. She then sews her jewelry into the hem of one of the plain black dresses she has brought with her, describing how she saw Ralph's advertisement seeking "a reliable wife" and decided because of her needs for love and money, to suppress her true self and become the sort of woman that he wanted. She puts on her plain dress, changes her hairstyle into something more severe, puts her memories aside, and when the train stops, steps out to meet Ralph for the first time.

Part 1 - Wisconsin, Fall, 1907 - Chapters 1 and 2 Analysis

These first two chapters introduce the book's two central characters, each of whom is both a protagonist or a central character who undergoes a significant personal change and/or who drives the action and an antagonist or a character whose desires oppose those of the protagonist and whose actions trigger the protagonist's transformation. In other words, the foundations and motivations of complicated relationship between Truitt and Catherine, as well as their individually complicated relationships with themselves, are laid down here, their clearly opposite intentions and perspectives on the situation setting the stage for the conflict to follow. These portrayals of characters with obvious potential for conflict, both within themselves and with each other, function effectively to draw the reader into the narrative. At the same time, there are suggestions even here of the fact, explored in detail in the narrative to follow, that ultimately, their purposes and their identities are, after all, not that different.

Other important elements in this section include the reference to the weather in Chapter 1 and several instances of foreshadowing. These include the reference to Truitt's family life, which foreshadows the stories he tells about his family and the eventual intrusion of Antonio into the lives of both characters. There is also the reference to Catherine's family, which foreshadows the appearance of her sister Alice later in the narrative. Finally, there is the comment at the end of the chapter that Catherine knows more of what is to happen than Truitt. This foreshadows the eventual revelation that she is planning to poison him, a revelation hinted at with the first appearance of the blue glass bottle, the first reference to poison and the beginning of her planned attempt to administer that poison.

This section contains 834 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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