A Reliable Wife Setting & Symbolism

Robert Goolrick
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This section contains 554 words
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The American state of Wisconsin, in the upper Midwest near the Great Lakes, is the setting for much of the novel's action. The pressures of its climate and isolation are primary factors in the mindset of many of the background characters.

The long, cold, and dark Wisconsin winter is an important contextual trigger for the undercurrent of madness that threads its way through the novel's background action.

This is the house where Catherine is brought as Truitt's new bride and strikes her on first glance as surprisingly appealing. Furnished in an unusual but comfortable mix of the rustic and expensive, she spends much of her time there after she arrives moving from room to room, restless and staring out its windows into the winter.

In order to please his Italian wife Emilia, Truitt spends a fortune designing and building a home for her on his estate in the Italian style. After Truitt kicks her out, he moves back to his old house, but moves back to the Italian house when Catherine comes into his life.

While the Italian house was being designed and built, Emilia asked for and received a typical Italian garden with fruit trees, statuary, and multitudes of flowers, hidden by tall walls from public view. When Catherine moves into Truitt's life, the garden had been abandoned for many years, but she constructs elaborate plans to bring it back to its beauty. The garden can be seen as a metaphoric representation of the souls of both Catherine and Truitt that are long derelict but reawakened by the appearance of love.

As Catherine unpacks when she first arrives at Truitt's house, the author describes a small blue glass bottle in detail but does not indicate why it is important until later. Eventually, it is revealed that the bottle contains arsenic, with which Catherine intends to kill Truitt. The bottle recurs several times in the narrative as a metaphoric representation and a reiteration of that intention.

After Catherine is married, she is sent by Truitt to St. Louis to seek out and bring home his son, Antonio. St. Louis is described as a place where Catherine can live the life she used to live where "people came here to be bad. People came here to do the things they couldn't do at home. Smoke cigarettes. Have sex. Make their way in the world." (p. 115). She falls back into this lifestyle the minute she meets Antonio.

Antonio's apartment in St. Louis is run down, decadent, and cluttered and is the setting for Catherine's initial encounter with him and most of their intense and passionate affair.

Throughout the narrative, what Catherine wears is evocative of the personality she intends to assume.

Truitt's carved crystal glass, taken from the Italian house, is filled with fresh cold water and placed by his bedside every night by the devoted Mrs. Larsen. Drinking this water is a ritual with him, meaning that he is able to tell when it is being tampered with or laced with poison by Catherine).

Later in the narrative, when Catherine has put an end to her attempt to kill Truitt, she journeys to Chicago in search of non-traditional remedies that can heal him. There, she reunites with her cousin India, whose likeness she had borrowed as part of her plan to lure Truitt into marriage.

This section contains 554 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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