A Reliable Wife - Part 1 - Wisconsin, Fall, 1907 - Chapters 5 and 6 Summary & Analysis

Robert Goolrick
This Study Guide consists of approximately 45 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 5 and 6 Summary

Chapter 5: Truitt is aware of the women, Mrs. Larsen and Catherine, tending to him during his illness. In language that evokes a feverish state of delirium, Truitt's recollections of his past includes his powerful businessman father, his quiet brother who died at nineteen and, most particularly, of his religiously domineering mother. She, tortured him with painful visions of hell and taunting comments about his unredeemable wickedness, which hurt particularly because he knew she was right, having been tormented by lustful thoughts about women ever since he was a child. The author then gives a history of Truitt's past including his attendance first at boarding school and then college, where he lived a life full of booze and women, funded entirely by regularly received money from his father, who also funded a post- college tour of Europe. While in France, he became even more decadent, indulging in drinking, drugs, and prostitutes, desiring them desperately but hating himself, with equal desperation, for acting on that desire. All that ended when he saw and fell in love with Emilia, a beautiful Italian girl from a poor but aristocratic family. He courted both her and her parents, arranging for his father to give him a lot of money to seal the marriage deal. As plans for the wedding continued, Truitt's father fell ill and died. The wedding took place almost immediately and Truitt and Emilia set sail for America, Truitt confessing the dark desperation of his sexual desires and Emilia telling him to not be foolish, but not really knowing what she was saying. When Truitt arrived back home to take control of his father's business, the out-of-place Emilia was already pregnant. Narration describes how everyone in Truitt's family was now dead, how he hoped his lust would fade but never did, and how it transformed into an angry solitude. Narration then returns to the present, with a description of how the two women continued to take care of him throughout his illness.

Chapter 6: Catherine waits, bored almost out of her mind, for Truitt's health to improve. She recalls her decadent past with lovers, drugs, and a great deal of traveling. She eats the wonderful food prepared for her by Mrs. Larsen, who tells her that she's glad to have the chance to cook again, having done it last in "the other house." When Catherine asks about that house, Mrs. Larsen stays quiet but at one point, tells Catherine that Truitt has been hurt very badly in the past, and that if she, Catherine, hurts him, Mrs. Truitt will hurt her. Catherine promises that she will not, but the author reveals her plan to marry Truitt, get her hands on his money, and leave with a young lover. Narration also describes how she frequently contemplates the blue glass bottle and how easy it was for her to learn how to make poison. Meanwhile, she continues her devoted nursing, which eventually results in Truitt's fever breaking. "

Part 1 - Wisconsin, Fall, 1907 - Chapters 5 and 6 Analysis

There are several important elements in this section. The first is the detailed description of Truitt's past, which offers the reader further indications of the deeply troubled soul that lies beneath the surface of his sharp bitterness and, simultaneously, begins the process of establishing some of the essential similarities and/or parallels between his experience and that of Catherine, itself hinted at in Chapter 6. One of the most important aspects of Truitt's past, meanwhile, is his relationship with his sadistic mother who, as the narration points out at one point, stuck his palm deeply with a pin to demonstrate the pain that would be awaiting for him in hell if he continued on his path. The scar left behind by that pin remains in Truitt's hand, a physical representation of the emotional, spiritual, and moral scar her judgment left behind. Is there an echo here of the piercing of Christ's hands with nails during his crucifixion? Some might say that's going too far, but others might suggest that those nails aresymbolic of Christ's taking on exactly the sort of human sin that Truitt's mother is talking about.

Other than the previously discussed reference to Catherine's past, other important elements in Chapter 6 include Mrs. Larsen's reference to the other house and also her comments about Truitt's inner wounds. These foreshadow, his description, in the following section, of how those wounds came about. Then there is the reference to the blue glass bottle, with its increasingly clear, increasingly specific, and increasingly suspenseful link to poison for the first time, a linkage that is not yet entirely overt, but is pretty close to being so.

Finally, at the end of Chapter 6, there is one of the earliest occurrences in the novel of the phrase "It happens". The phrase is a motif, repeated frequently, albeit with variations, throughout the narrative. On each occurrence, it essentially suggests that while events may come as a surprise to the individuals involved, they're not out of character for humanity as a whole.

This section contains 850 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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