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Such a pretty little picture Analysis

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years ago

 In this one little phrase, which is also the title, the entirety of this story can be found.  It is a "pretty little picture", but only that, a picture.  Life is not a snapshot captured in time unchanging forever.  On the outside this family appears normal, happy, and content.  Mr.Wheelock however is anything but. We learn through his inner thoughts that he is dissatisfied with his life.  His wife makes it a habit to make a joke of him in public for the fact that he is not "handy".  His daughter is an ill-favored child who copies her mother in behavior and with whom he feels no strong connection.  Throughout the story Mr. Wheelock is contemplating if he could go through with leaving his family and never coming back.  His main problem is the details of the plan and the message that he wishes to convey by leaving.

Mr.Wheelock idealizes a story he heard of a man stuck in a rut who did the same thing day in and day out for twenty years and who one day instead of going home on the train as usual paused, stepped back off the train, was heard to say "Oh hell", walked off, and was never seen by his family again.  Mr.Wheelock would like to do something along these lines.  In doing so he could show the way he actually feels about his existence and prove once and for all that he is not merely someone to push around.  The problems with this scheme are many however.  Mr.Wheelock does not do the same exact thing everyday so it wouldn't seem as shocking, people might take a while to notice and so spoil his intention.  Mr.Wheelock also worries that people will assume he left for incorrect reasons like another woman.  He is trying to appear as the victim of his life and if people think he is having an affair he will instead appear the villian in the situation.  Another problem with this plan is that if he leaves his wife and child will not be able to support themselves and would be left destitute.  Lastly, and this is a large problem to Mr.Wheelock, is he would like to use the phrase "oh, hell" to perfect effect but he cannot come up with a way to do so.  To him this phrase holds all of his emotions and opinions on the subject.

What further complicates this story is we know from Mr.Wheelock that his wife is as perfect as a wife can be.  That she does absolutely everything that is expected of her and never complains or is down about it.  Like Babbitt's wife in Sinclair's Babbitt, Mrs.Wheelock's only true crime is that she doesn't understand her husband nor the effect that she has on him.  Furthermore his daughter, Sister,  is a sickly delicate child who needs an eye operation in a couple of years.  Sister is also extremely well behaved and does exactly as she is told.  Although the reader can sympathize with Mr.Wheelock, they are not given a clear way to excuse him if he does abandon his family.  If his wife was a terrible wife who did nothing and his child a brat it would be much easier to excuse him.

This story is one most of us have encountered before.  It is the story of a man reaching middle age and realizing that life hasn't turned out like he planned.  What seems idyllic and a "pretty little picture" is actually one person's self-made trap.  Mrs.Cole, who makes the title statement, truly believes what she says because to her the Wheelocks' life is enviable.  Mrs.Cole we learn cannot have children and obviously would have liked one.  The Wheelocks' life represents to Mrs.Cole her ideal, a family.

Parker demonstrates in this story her understanding once again of real life and real life situations.  Her characters are not given what would be an easy, but entirely fictional, way out.  They must deal with the realistic consequences of their actions and face complicated emotions.  There are many layers of reality and perception of reality in this story.  Adelaide and Sister Wheelock are content and believe Mr.Wheelock to be so as well, they would never expect what he is thinking.  We get Mr.Wheelock's view, he is discontent and would like to leave but is too shy to confront what he doesn't like and too aware of the complications to simply leave.  Lastly we get Mrs.Cole's perception of everything, which is that the Wheelocks' lead an enviable existence.

Most believe that the basis of this story comes from Mrs.Parker's observations of the marriage between Robert and Gertrude Benchley, Robert being another member of the Algonquin Round Table.  Apparently their marriage was not a happy one and Robert eventually cheated on Gertrude.

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