Tony’s Wife by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, 1899
The magic trick:
Portrait of the unjust powerlessness facing women
The title is your first clue. Tony’s wife doesn’t even get a name. Maybe it’s Mary? We’re not sure. It doesn’t matter. Her life is defined and confined by her abusive husband. She can barely contain her excitement when it becomes clear he is nearing death, only to find that she loses out on any financial aid to another man. It’s a depressing, but surely all-too-accurate, portrait of turn-of-the-century America. And that’s quite a trick on Dunbar-Nelson’s part.
As for Tony, when she was slow in opening his oysters or in cooking his red beans and spaghetti, he roared at her, and prefixed picturesque adjectives to her lace, which made her hide it under her apron with a fearsome look in her dull eyes.