A Reliable Wife - Study Guide Part 3 - Wisconsin, Winter into Spring, 1908 - Chapters 19 and 20 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 3 - Wisconsin, Winter into Spring, 1908 - Chapters 19 and 20 Summary

Chapter 19: Truitt's general health deteriorates quickly, and Catherine veers back and forth between acting on her love for Antonio and her growing love for Truitt. As he suffers traumatizing nightmares, deepening blisters, and painful oversensitivity to touch and hearing, he begins instructing Catherine in the ways and details of his business empire. A doctor diagnoses cancer, and Truitt begins to visit the churches in the area, seeking absolution and grace, hoping to ease his deepening sadness. Catherine stops administering the poison, then starts again, then stops, then starts, fully aware that she and Truitt are approaching the line where healing would no longer be possible. Truitt loses awareness of what's happening to him, coming to believe that he is suffering retribution for his youthful dissolution, that a disease contracted then is making its presence felt now. He starts spending his nights in the old house, coming back to Catherine in the days. Finally, Catherine tells him she can't do it, she can't and won't cause his death. He tells her he had thought he wanted to die. She promises to nurse him back to health, and that she will bring Antonio. "Until then," she says, "live for me."

Chapter 20: Catherine sends a telegram to Antonio, insisting that he "come at once". She then burns all of Truitt's clothes, anything that he and/or the poison might have contact with. She empties the blue bottle in the woods, and then travels to Chicago to meet her cousin India, whose photograph Catherine sent with her initial letter to Truitt. India, a quiet, sad woman takes her to a Chinese doctor who gives her a variety of expensive herbal medicines. After taking India to an expensive dinner, and after agreeing to give the drunken, eager India substantial amounts of money, Catherine spends the night in her hotel, waking in the morning with the realization that she's pregnant. She returns to Wisconsin, where she starts the treatments given to her by the Chinese doctor. As the treatments slowly begin to take effect, Catherine reflects on her life, how she squandered much of it and how she's changed. She also considers the baby, convincing herself that Truitt is the father - they made love the night she returned while she was menstruating, and Antonio never ejaculated into her, afraid of becoming a father himself. Meanwhile, Truitt continues to improve - damaged, and scarred, but increasingly healthy and Catherine continues to withhold news about her pregnancy. And then one night, while Truitt and Catherine are at dinner, Antonio arrives, saying he's Truitt's son. "And even though they both knew what the man said was a fiction," narration comments, "Ralph stepped into the dark and opened his arms."

Part 3 - Wisconsin, Winter into Spring, 1908 - Chapters 19 and 20 Analysis

Narrative momentum begins to accelerate in this section, as the characters move closer and closer to the climaxes of their individual journeys and the novel's climax in Chapter 24, in which all the individual climaxes come together into one explosive confrontation. Interesting points to note here include the parallels between Truitt's physical suffering and Catherine's emotional suffering (again drawing/reinforcing parallels between the two), and the reference to Truitt's belief that he is suffering from a disease caused by sexual misconduct in the past. The reference here is to syphilis, which was viewed by many, sufferers and non-sufferers alike, as retribution for immorality and promiscuity. There is also the sense here that Truitt is experiencing the seemingly justifiable suffering foretold by his mother. Chapter 19 concludes with an opportunity for both Catherine and Truitt to heal, to transcend their moral and sexual corruption once and for all. This marks a turning point for the characters and the novel, the point at which the action clearly starts moving towards that aforementioned climax.

The somewhat surprising appearance of India, the even more surprising revelation of Catherine's pregnancy, and the most surprising appearance of Antonio at his father's door all contribute to that sense of increasing narrative energy, of advancing momentum. There is the sense that, with his gesture at the end of Chapter 20, Truitt is opening his arms not only to the man he believes is his son but to his destiny. It could be argued, in fact, that the gesture is, in some ways, representative of how all three of the main characters are opening their arms to a destiny - or, at least, what they hope is their destiny. How that hope defines their actions, and how their actions define their lives, is the focus of exploration in the following chapters.

This section contains 779 words
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