A Reliable Wife - Study Guide Part 3 - Wisconsin, Winter into Spring, 1908 - Chapters 23, 24 and 25 Summary & Analysis

Robert Goolrick
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Part 3 - Wisconsin, Winter into Spring, 1908 - Chapters 23, 24 and 25 Summary

Chapter 23: Antonio and Truitt carefully start having conversations with each other about the past and the future, with Truitt patiently insisting that he regrets what happened between them in the past and Antonio gradually coming to realize that the hatred, the self-loathing, and the self-indulgence that kept his father at bay have ultimately left him (Antonio) empty and desperate. He spends long drunken nights weeping in his old nursery in the Italian house, where his toys and even his blanket have been left untouched for years, realizing that he has started to feel differently about Truitt, and about himself. He continues to fantasize about Catherine, but she consistently keeps her distance. He contemplates the arsenic he brought with him from Chicago as a means to end his own life and writes suicide notes in which he reveals everything that happened between him and Catherine, but burns them.

Chapter 24: Antonio visits Catherine in the conservatory, where she sits sewing a new dress. He insists again that they can be together in the old way, but she again insists that their time together was another life, that she was another person. When he touches her shoe, she sends him away but after retreating and drinking some brandy he returns, wanting her and desperate to take her. In spite of her violent resistance, he rips off her dress, grabs her, kisses her, and rapes her. In self-defense, she stabs him with her sewing scissors, crying out "Why?" He falls back, saying again that it was because Truitt tortured and killed his mother. Catherine shouts that he made that story up, that Truitt never hurt Emilia. At that moment, Truitt comes. Antonio tells him of the past he (Antonio) and Catherine share. Truitt attacks him. Antonio flees into the house, Truitt and Catherine following. Antonio hits Truitt with a poker from the fireplace and runs out. Catherine tries to calm Truitt, but he runs out, catching up with Antonio and fighting with him out onto the field. Catherine, joined by Mrs. Larsen, watches as the two raging men bloody each other, Antonio eventually ending up on the pond and Truitt on its banks, both of them empty of anger. Suddenly the thin ice cracks, and Antonio goes through. Unable to find his way back to the surface, he drowns. The desperate Truitt retrieves a rope and a pole, but it's too late - the next morning, Antonio's body is retrieved and taken away. Catherine packs away his things, weeping bitterly at the memories awakened by all the smells of him that remain. The chapter concludes with narrative commentary on the pain and loneliness at the heart of the lives of Truitt, Emilia, Antonio and Catherine, as well as their families. "It was just," narration comments, "a story about despair."

Chapter 25: Catherine, Truitt and Mrs. Larsen are the only people to go to Antonio's funeral service and burial where his body is placed in a plot near his sister, Francesca, and Truitt's parents. Two days later Catherine, in the dress she was sewing when Antonio attacked her, stands in the still-untended Italian garden, convinced that Truitt would soon dismiss her, fearing returning to the life she left behind, not knowing how to tell him about the baby. As she recalls how her relationship with Truitt began, she imagines life returning to the long-dead Italian garden - grass greening, flowers blooming, statues again standing upright, and herself and Truitt enjoying it together. The dream is interrupted by Truitt, who tells her that he has known the truth about her visit to St. Louis even before she came back - Malloy and Fisk had told him. He also says it's private, and it means nothing. Catherine chooses her words carefully, saying that she is expecting a child. At that, Truitt invites her to come with him into the house. She looks at the garden and follows him in.

Part 3 - Wisconsin, Winter into Spring, 1908 - Chapters 23, 24 and 25 Analysis

Narrative momentum, which had already been building over the last few chapters, increases its pace throughout this section, building to the climactic confrontation between Catherine, Truitt, and Antonio in Chapter 25. Here it's important to note several things. The first is how Antonio finally begins to get in touch with the grief and loss that have been driving him, the past that has haunted him, and how his feelings are too strong, and his discovery of them too late, to make the kind of recovery from that past that Truitt and Catherine have been making from theirs. The second important point to note is the symbolic value of Antonio's tearing away of Catherine's dress. Then there is the confrontation between Truitt and Antonio, with its outbursts of violence and ultimate, some might say tragic, end. Here again there is symbolic value to the setting - specifically, to the fact that Antonio runs out on the thin ice, as it were, of the melting pond. The metaphor here has two layers of meaning - first, as an evocation of the thinness of the reconciliation between Antonio and Truitt and secondly, as an evocation of the thin veneer of sanity that Antonio has constructed between his present and his past. When he slips through the ice, he metaphorically slips through that veneer, symbolically "drowning" in the suffering that he believes entirely makes up his past identity.

Meanwhile, the previously discussed connection between Catherine's new life and the life of the Italian garden (see Chapter 10) manifests vividly in Chapter 25. Catherine's vision of healthy, blossoming new life in the garden (as opposed to the sexually corrupt decadence represented by the rest of the Italian house) corresponds almost exactly with her vision of new life in her child and in her marriage. Truitt's revelation that he already knew about her affair with Antonio is not entirely surprising, given that his determined interest in knowing the truth about those with whom he is involved has already been demonstrated through his search for Antonio. His actions are also, however, quite surprising, in that he is so able to forgive her and so apparently willing to put that part of her past in the past, which is, ultimately, what he has done with his own past. It is therefore no surprise that the novel concludes with yet another manifestation of the "such things happen" motif which is, also as previously discussed, is a representation of the novel's thematic interest in the ways human beings CAN surprise each other, and the mysterious ways of life and the human heart can surprise human beings.

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