Length: 680 words (1.9 double-spaced pages)
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When it comes to the art of conversation men and women employ different strategies when carrying on same sex conversations. In the short story “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton, the two main characters appear to be having a battle of wits.
While on holiday in Rome two people become reacquainted with each other. Both parties have lost their spouse. The dialogue opens with one speaker making light conversation. This person is simply making nonchalant statements, possibly seeking a reply with a mutual agreement about the topic. Instead the second person replies back with an implied personal ending to the statement taking the control away from the first speaker. This causes the first speaker to reflect for a moment. Well executed, the second person has once again politely changed the subject to avoid a confrontation.
In the company of each other, silence is a device they both use. One uses it for opportunistic reasons, the other to conceal. When the conversation starts again it seems as if the couple is carefully setting the stage for a mental battle of, who can out do who, the classiest. This is where the genders split as to how they deal with conflict.
Usually two civilized gentlemen engaged in a conversation that involves intimacy tend to keep those personal emotions to themselves. If directly asked such a question the other gentleman would probably state that he chooses not to discuss it. If men do not want to talk about a subject that involves emotions they come right out and say, “I don’t want to talk about this and that’s final”. Respecting the other man’s statement, no further discussions involving that topic would take place. As far as a strategy for control of conversation, men are not inclined to be evasive with each other. They get right to the point without a lot of chit-chat in between. Men do not try to confuse one another with inferences or misleading statements, to them it would be illogical.
With reference to the two women in “Roman Nights” Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley literally battle each other in the most feminine of ways, through words. Mrs. Slade admits to her friend that Delphin did not write the letter, she did. This emotionally crushes Mrs. Ansley. Now that the topic is finally out in the open the two women prepare for a game of wits.
After the first round of surprises Mrs.
Slade assumes she is victorious and begins an attempt at an apology. However Mrs. Ansley is confused because, when she answered Delphin, he had arranged for their secret meeting. Mrs. Ansley now had full control and proceeded to tell Mrs. Slade that she did not have to wait at the Colosseum that night. The night watchman had let the young couple in through the gates. Still in control Mrs. Ansley artfully redirects the focus back on to Mrs. Slade when she tells her, that she is sorry she foiled her plan for her to be down with an illness.
Admitting she was outwitted, because Mrs. Ansley wrote a message back to Delphin, Mrs. Slade boasts that she had him for a quarter century and that Mrs. Ansley had a memory of a letter from him that he did not write. With her three final words Mrs. Ansley will forever control any future interactions between the two women.
Men do not care who is in control of a conversation just as long as both of them can take turns sharing information. They do not worry about reading in to the meaning of what is being discussed because they say what they need and go on to the next topic. Due to nature, women tend to be considerate of the emotional impact of the words they speak. With this in mind, women often use confusing inferences and innuendos when speaking to each other. They believe they can control a conversation with manipulation and deception. It does not matter who has control in the beginning of a situation. What matters is who has mastery of control at the end.