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Essay: "The Other Two": Examining Old-Fashioned Marriage in Wharton's 1904 Short Story

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  • Published: 25 February 2023*
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Demani Williams

September 17, 2018

English 120

Close Reading Essay

“The Other Two”: Husband Number Three

Edith Wharton’s “The Other Two” was published in 1904. In this story, we follow a woman, named Alice, as she walks through life searching for love and wealth. Alice and her third husband, Waythorn, have are back home from their honeymoon and finally get to take on the world as a new couple. As we follow their background, we learn that this marriage is a first forr Waythorn; but on the contrary, is a third for Alice. And with that said, it is made evident that Alice has a history with men. In the story, we witness Waythorn’s perception of what is going on around him. Waythorn believes that Alice is not the woman he believed he married, and ultimately decides to accept Alice for who she is despite the way people see her in the society. As a husband, Waythorn evolves over the course of the story and by the end of the story Waythorn an ideal husband.

In this short story, we are introduced to many characters. The main character, Alice, is well liked, but also has a lot of reservation. Her first husband, Mr. Haskett, has a daughter with her, who is very devoted to and was able to get and keep Alice until getting a dovirce, because of his social standing. Mr. Haskett is a good father and his top priority is taking care of his daughter. This brings us to Miss Lily Haskett. She is 12 years old and is sick with thalloid. Alice’s third husband is. Alice’s third husband is Mr. Waythorn, and he is not fazed by his wife’s history, until their honeymoon is over and the return back to New York. Where he begins to become uncomfortable interacting a being in the same area as the other two husbands- reasoning of the title. Mr. Gus Varick is the second husband and has recently come up on cash and is now reasonably wealthy. His character is friendly and easygoing and is very popular in the story. And last but not least, there is Mr. Sellers. He is Waythorn’s business partner. In this story, Wharton covers what divorce is like in this day in age. Alice is on her third husband, which is uncommon during that time and also has a kid with one of the husbands.

This story is very controversial topic and these characters help readers get a better understanding of the controversial topic. This story takes place in New York City and happen in the early 20th century. These characters behave in the way they do because of how controversial the topic is. For examples, the third husband, Mr. Waythorn, consistently deals with the fact that he is a third husband to the love of his life, so he behaves in a very jealous way because of it. And that is due to the controversy. The events unfold with everyone getting along and coming to an agreement that there is no need for negativity. All the husbands are now at an agreed understanding that they are strictly around for the purpose of Lily or coincidence. One thing that we can take away from this story is that people can change their attitude and behavior.  

Early on in the story, Waythorn may have not been the most ideal husband. He is a jealous husband, and that is shown when Alice’s ex-husbands resurface. In the passage, it mentions that Alice is, “…as easy as an old shoe…” (Wharton) Implying that Alice can be easily manipulated. This makes it easy for Waythorn and his possesive ways, which is made evident in the book, primarily on page 6. Waythorn wants possession in the relationship and can easily be seen as a possessive person. He doesn’t view the marriage as an equal partnership- as he believes that he is in charge.

Waythorn is easily disturbed, he gets very upset easily. That provides a direct contrast to Alice Waythorn. Alice is the complete opposite. Alice doesn’t get upset about stuff. Even when Lily gets sick with thyfloid, Alice doesn’t seem to get all worked up about it. But Waythorn gets worked up and stressed out. On page 1 there is a description of Waythorns personality. It says, “His own life had been a gray one, from temperament rather than circumstance, and he been drawn to her by the unperturbed gayety…” (Wharton) In other words, the reason why Waythorn gets upset is not because he has unfortunate circumstances, but because of his temperament. His temperament causes his to get worked up over the least worries of things.

Waythorn learns how to be more resilient towards the end. Alice feels bad that Hasket is coming to visit Lily, and Alice says, “If Lily could have been moved,” (Wharton) and Waythorn immidieatly says, “That’s out of the question,” (Wharton) Lily will be staying where he resides and is staying there with them. So right there, we find out early on page one that Waythorn is a concerned stepfather and he cares about Lily and wants her to be well and cared for. So, when asked if Waythorn is a good husband, I think he is because Waythorn openly accepts Lily and accepts Alice and her flaws and her shot comings, and ultimately accepts her for who he is. By the end of the story, Waythorn has a different outlook on his marriage, and he is much more accepting of Alice.

In conclusion, it is seen that at the time the story took place several ideas on how a husband and a wife should conduct themselves already existed. The wife was supposed to be subservient to her husband and defer to his wishes at all times. However, times were changing, as evidenced by Alice’s two divorces, as women were finding a voice through the courts of law. Social manners and appearance to the outside world were of paramount importance at those times, as people strove not to embarrass themselves in front of their peers. Both, Alice and Waythorn are seen to be different from the norm at that time, Alice considering her two divorces and Waythorn in his desire for a strong-willed wife. One thing we can take from Waythorn is that early on in the story, Waythorn is closed minded. We learn that he assumes that his wife’s ex-husbands are bad people. But then, when he gets to know them better, he discovers otherwise, and he realizes that they are good people- and ultimately end up becoming friends with them. So, there is a lot one can benefit from being open minded and giving people a chance. People can change their behavior. And as a result, they can become happier. That is the story of Waythorn. Early on in the story when we looked at the description of Waythorn, and we learn that he was stressed over triviality, trivial things. Meaning that Waythorn he stressed over the most miniscual things. And as a result, he was not a happy person. But Waythorn changes over the course of the story, he evolves as a character. And by the end of the story, he is a much wiser person. And he learns not to get so upset so easily, By the end of the story Waythorn learns to build a high level of resilience that he never had before. That is a lesson we learned from Waythorn and this story. My topic is important because Waythorn could’ve easily stuck in his stubborn ways and negatively affect his marriage and the people around him. However, he decided that it would be in his best interest to simply be a better man and accept the past and look forward to the future.

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