A Domestic Dilemma by Carson McCullers, 1951
The magic trick:
Focusing on the dilemma and not a possible solution until, very suddenly, at the end
As you can guess from the title, there is a definite conflict at the heart of this story. Specifically, a young couple has relocated from Alabama to New York and the housewife has taken to drink as a refuge from the resulting loneliness and feelings of displacement.
The entire story details this conflict – the husband’s mess of feelings, from anger to tenderness to despair; and the young children’s hurt and confusion at seeing their mother behave so oddly.
Never does the reader sense that the husband is considering a solution to the problem. We are only lost in defining the conflict itself.
So it’s a shock at the end of the story when we suddenly realize that the husband has in fact been processing options and deciding on how to solve this domestic dilemma.
And that’s quite a trick on McCullers’s part.
As he busied himself with the dinner downstairs he was lost in the familiar question as to how this problem had come upon his home. He himself had always enjoyed a good drink. When they were still living in Alabama they had served long drinks or cocktails as a matter of course. For years they had drunk one or two – possibly three drinks before dinner, and at bedtime a long nightcap. Evenings before holidays they might get a buzz on, might even become a little tight. But alcohol had never seemed a problem to him, only a bothersome expense that with the increase in the family they could scarcely afford.. It was only after his company had transferred him to New York that Martin was aware that certainly his wife was drinking too much. She was tippling, he noticed, during the day.
The problem acknowledged, he tried to analyze the source. The change from Alabama to New York had somehow disturbed her; accustomed to the idle warmth of a small Southern town, the matrix of the family and cousinship and childhood friends, she had failed to accommodate herself to the stricter, lonelier mores of the North. The duties of motherhood and housekeeping were onerous to her. Homesick for Paris City, she had made no friends in the suburban town. She read only magazines and murder books. Her interior life was insufficient without the artifice of alcohol.
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