The Pelican’s Shadow by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1940
The magic trick:
Placing a smart, previously-career-oriented woman in the role of doting wife
The plight of a 1940s American wife stuck in the role of doting dolt in the face of a pompous, self-absorbed husband is bad enough. Rawlings ups the cringe ante here by making it clear that the story’s newlywed wife, Elsa, is capable of far more. We learn that she was previously employed as a magazine editor, in charge of taking her now-husband’s submissions. With the marriage vows exchanged, though, the power dynamic is different, and she is left placating his ridiculous ego. The letter correspondence between Elsa and May, her former co-worker, further illustrates the distance between her potential and her current role as wife. The women are smart, professional, insightful, but Elsa is forced to bury the truth in her letters behind a batch of generic clichés of honeymoon happiness. This notion that her life and career were on upward trajectories until she met this pelican of a man looms over the entire story. And that’s quite a trick on Rawlings’s part.
She wanted to sit down at the portable at onc, but Dr. Tifton came into the room.
“I’ll have my shower later,” he said and rolled his round gray eyes with meaning.
His mouth, she noticed, made a long, thin line that gave the impression of a perpetual half-smile. She mixed the martinis and he sipped his with appreciation. He had a smug expectancy that she recognized from her brief dealings with established authors. He was waiting for her favorable comment on his article.
“Your article was grand,” she said. “If I were still an editor I’d have grabbed it.”