Compare and Contrast the Short Stories “Turned”, “To Please his Wife” and “An Alpine Divorce”. Comment on the Narrative Structure, Key Themes, the Role of Women and the Endings In this essay I will be examining the three short stories “Turned”, “To Please his Wife” and “An Alpine Divorce”. I will analyse key themes in the stories, such as women’s independence, and wealth. I will also compare and contrast some of the characters.
The plot of “Turned” is centred on Mrs Marroner, a woman who is betrayed by her husband when he gets their servant, Gerta, pregnant. Mrs Marroner chooses to take herself and Gerta, away from Mr Marroner, and survive on her own. “To Please his Wife” is about Joanna, who wants to improve her social standing and become rich. Her ambitions eventually get her husband and sons killed. “An Alpine Divorce” is about an unhappy marriage between Mr and Mrs Bodman, driving Mr Bodman to murder his wife. However, Mrs Bodman commits suicide, framing Mr Bodman for a murder he didn’t have the chance to commit.
The three short stories open in very different ways. “Turned” opens by going straight into the plot, saying: “Mrs Marroner lay sobbing”. This draws us in; we want to find out why she is crying. This is an effective method. In contrast, “To Please his Wife” opens with the description; “The Interior of St James’ Church was slowly darkening under the close clouds of a winter afternoon”. This opening sets the scene for the story, but it is not particularly interesting, so it does not draw us in as effectively as the opening of “Turned”.
“An Alpine Divorce” starts in another different way, by describing John Bodman as “a man who was always at one extreme or the other”. We are interested in him, and once his marriage is described as “hate of the most bitter and arrogant kind” we become fascinated. I think this is very effective, more so than either “To Please his Wife” or “Turned”. I think the best introduction overall is also “An Alpine Divorce”, since it is the most interesting.
All three stories are in very different settings, and the setting reflects the plot. “Turned” is set in an urban environment, which is modern. The plot reflects this, since it is very forward thinking for when it was written (1911). In contrast, “To Please his Wife” is set in a small port, called “Havenpool Town”. This is a more rural, conventional area, which is again reflected in the plot, as the plot supports traditional moral values. “An Alpine Divorce” has a far more dramatic setting, the Alpine mountains. The plot is equally dramatic, more so than the other two stories.
There are several themes that run through the stories, highlighting each author’s moral message. One such theme is women’s independence. In all three stories, women take control of their lives instead of being controlled by their husbands. In “Turned”, the woman is Mrs Marroner. She is educated, something very unusual for women at that time, we know this because the text says, “She had been on the faculty of a college”. When she discovered her husband had had an affair, she decided Gerta was the victim, and left her husband to look after her. This asserts her independence, a more reliant wife would have kicked Gerta out and forgiven her husband. In this story her independence is a positive influence on the plot, since the author writes Gerta has “a new intelligence in her eyes”. The author seems to consider women’s independence a good thing.
In “To Please his Wife” the independent woman is Joanna. She wants to become rich instead of “rubbing on” as she puts it. She manipulates Shadrach, her husband; the text says “Jolliffe agreed with her, in this as in everything else”. Her manipulation and ambition eventually gets her husband and two sons killed. In contrast with “Turned”, the author considers women’s independence a bad thing.
The independent woman in “An Alpine Divorce” is Mrs Bodman. Rather than suffer her husband, who she hates, she asserts her independence by killing herself, framing her husband for murder in the process. Another theme addressed in all three stories is reputations. In “To Please his Wife” Joanna wants to improve her social standing and reputation by becoming rich. To her, reputation is important, since she is willing to risk her children and her husband for one. In “Turned” reputation affects the story in a different way. Mr Marroner’s reputation prevents him from casting out Joanna, as she could go to the newspapers. He, like Joanna considers reputation important.
Similarly, in “An Alpine Divorce”, Mr Bodman cannot leave Mrs Bodman, as his reputation would be ruined, the text tells us “If he had been a poor man he would probably have deserted her”. In this story, as well in “To Please his Wife”, reputation limits the options of a character. Lack of communication is another theme that runs through the three stories. In “Turned” Gerta will not tell Mrs Marroner what is wrong with her, “She would admit nothing, explain nothing” tell us this. The lack of communication is a negative influence, since when Mrs Marroner discovers Gerta is carrying Mr Marroner’s child, she is at first angry (“She had no shadow of pity”).
In “To Please his Wife”, the lack of communication is between Shadrach and Joanna. Shadrach doesn’t fully express how dangerous the trading voyage is, saying only “O, well, there be risks”. This lack of communication is fatal for him and his sons. The lack of communication in “An Alpine Divorce” is between Mr and Mrs Bodman. If they had communicated more, their relationship could have not been so terrible. In all of the stories, a lack of communication is obviously a bad thing.
In all three stories there are characters that stand out, for various reasons. Three characters that have obvious similarities are Mrs Marroner, from “Turned”, Joanna, from “To Please his Wife” and Mrs Bodman, from “An Alpine Divorce”. All three are independent, assertive women, but there are certain differences. Mrs Marroner is by far the most educated of the three. She is able to approach the situation logically when her husband betrays her, and chooses what I see as the correct option, to take Gerta away. I think Mrs Marroner is supposed to be a good character, since she is a positive influence on the plot. She also illustrates the author’s point of female independence being a positive thing.
Joanna is a very different character. She is a very masculine character, especially when compared to her opposite, Emily. Her masculine qualities include her “tall, large frame”, and her ambition; in the text it says: “she was ambitious”. Although she is independent, she is also a very jealous person. Joanna is at first jealous of Emily when she discovers Shadrach loves Emily, the text says: “Green envy had overspread Joanna”. The author clearly does not approve of Joanna, since she is punished severely when her children and husband do not return, the text says she becomes ” a skeleton of something human”.
Mrs Bodman is not described much in “An Alpine Divorce”, but we do learn that she is very uncompromising. She marries a man similar to her, which leads him to hate her. She hates him even more, and commits suicide to frame him for murder. Two other characters that are similar are Emily, from “To Please his Wife”, and Gerta, from “Turned”. Emily is a traditional, weak woman, who is Thomas Hardy’s idea of how women should be. She is “slight and gentle” and obedient. Emily is a complete contrast of Joanna, and is rewarded by the author when she marries Mr Lester, a “thriving merchant”.
Gerta is also a weaker woman, although in contrast with Emily she is “tall” and “rosy-cheeked”. A more obvious contrast with Emily, though, is the fact the author does not favour her, at least compared with Mrs Marroner. She illustrates the author’s point of uneducated women being vulnerable, because Mr Marroner takes advantage of her. However, she is not punished as severely as Joanna, she is rescued by Mrs Marroner and educated.
It is important to look at all three stories in the correct historical context. “To Please his Wife” was completely acceptable, as sexism was commonplace when it was written. If it had be published today however, it would be completely unacceptable, as moral values have changed. “Turned” was quite groundbreaking for when it was written, it illustrated feminism, which was at the time considered outlandish, even by most women. Today however, the moral of women’s independence is wholly normal. “An Alpine Divorce” is “To Please his Wife” was written in 1891, by Thomas Hardy. It reflects his traditional views of women, and was completely acceptable for the time. The moral is centred on Thomas Hardy’s views of women, that they should be obedient, unquestioning and feminine, basically like Emily.
“Turned” was written in 1911 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who supported women getting the vote and being independent, poles apart from Thomas Hardy. It was quite an unconventional story, for the time it was written. I think the moral of this story is that women can and should be both independent and educated, as Mrs Marroner’s actions illustrate. I think the moral of “An Alpine Divorce” is centred on the authors views of marriage that it is basically a compromise and nothing more. In conclusion, the three stories are all very different, each one encompasses a different set of views and issues, but they all address these problems very effectively.