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A Reliable Wife Themes

Robert Goolrick
This Study Guide consists of approximately 59 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of A Reliable Wife.
This section contains 918 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)

Themes

The Power of Sexual Desire

Intense sexual drive and acting on that drive, are among the primary driving forces of all three (Truitt, Catherine, Antonio) of the book's central characters. All three want a lot of sex and each reacts differently to their wants. Truitt judges himself all his life and thanks to his mother, considers himself corrupt. Catherine first uses sex as a means of survival, indulges herself in sex, represses her desires in order to get money and security, and then finds those desires released in a surge of passion with Antonio, which she then represses them once again. Antonio defines himself almost entirely by both his desire and his acting on that desire, realizing eventually that all his sexual activity is merely a barely-functioning stopper for the overflowing bottle of grief and loneliness filling and refilling within him. It's important to note, however, that for both Catherine and Truitt, coming to connect their sexual experience with one of love, affection, and trust enables and fuels change within them. Sexuality, for each of them opens the door to an intimacy and vulnerability that neither of them had ever really experienced in all their previous sexual experiences. Both learn that sexuality is not innately corrupt or corrupting, that there can be a relationship between sexuality and healing, and that there is deep, intense value in using sexuality to develop intimacy, rather than hide from it. It's interesting to note that in this context, that Antonio never learns this lesson and dies, while Catherine and Truitt, who do learn this lesson, produce a new life together: a child.

The Unpredictable Nature of Humanity

The phrase "such things happened" occurs several times throughout the narrative, always at occasions when the characters have had an experience that has surprised them and/or awakened them to new possibilities and triggered new discoveries in themselves, about each other, or about the world. These discoveries can be positive, as in the end of the novel, or negative, as in the resolution of what happens to Alice. With each appearance of this motif, or repeated verbal image, the novel seems to suggest that even that which has seemed unchangeable or necessary has the potential to become something other than what was perceived to be immutable or locked in place. There are also times, perhaps paradoxically contrasting times, at which the novel makes the statement with an attitude of a shrug, almost a sense of why fight it, stuff happens, and all anyone can do is accept it and move on. To take that even further, there is also the sense that the phrase evokes the idea of fatalism, that things are going to "happen" no matter how hard people try to avoid them or redirect them. In short, there are, the phrase seems to suggest, no unlikelihoods - that no matter how strange a situation or an action or a choice may appear to be at first glance, that situation or action or choice may have happened in the past and might happen in the future, but in any case is certainly happening now. It may seem like coincidence or luck, a contrivance or an improbability, but in the world of the novel and perhaps in the so-called "real world", "such things happen" all the time. It could be argued that the phrase is an authorial contrivance, an attempt at putting a philosophical justification onto what might seem like a writer's desires rather than an organic, realistic development in a character's life. Whether that's the case or not, the point still remains that not only do coincidences really exist, but that humanity is capable of experiencing more, and choosing more, than it often believes, accepts, or imagines.

The Dangers of Isolation

The characters experience several sorts of isolation in the narrative, each with either active or perceived negative effects. The placement of much of the action in an isolated community in an isolating climate of a cold and hard winter places steadily increasing pressure on the characters. It drives them inward, leading them to question and confront their troubling inner selves. It's interesting to note however, that the physical isolation of the setting is also a metaphor, an externalization of various forms of inner isolation. This is true not just of emotional loneliness but also moral loneliness exemplified by Truitt's isolation by his passionate sexual desires and Catherine's isolation because of her need for security and her determination to kill. Emotional loneliness is evident in Truitt and Catherine both longing for love and security and spiritual loneliness by Truitt and Catherine longing for some kind of meaning and some kind of transcendent spiritual companionship. The fact that the narrative repeatedly comments on how the physical isolation enforced by winter in Wisconsin leads to mental and physical destruction of the self, of elements of the self, and of others therefore suggests that the sort of moral, emotional and spiritual isolation experienced by Catherine and Truitt and to some degree, Antonio, are themselves destructive. The way out of these dangers, the narrative suggests, is to find a path towards trust, love, intimacy and respect. Catherine and Truitt find their way there, end up redeemed, and also end up having a baby. Antonio abandons that path, if he was ever on it in the first place, trapped in the emotional isolation imposed by his grief and rage, and ends up destroyed. The moral here is to transcend isolation. Reach out. Connect. Redemption, peace, and forgiveness await.

This section contains 918 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Copyrights
A Reliable Wife from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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