Ideas About Trust in William Maxwell’s What He Was Like

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In William Maxwell’s “What He Was Like”, the characters’ trust in each other changes throughout the story. For example, the father trusts that his diaries will remain unread, but this does not happen. However, the mother understands and obeys this trust. Unfortunately, the daughter does not understand her father’s trust. A person’s ideas about trust change after reading this story.

“He was aware that his remarks were sometimes far from kind, but the person they were about was never going to read them, so what difference did it make” (p. 43). The father hides his diaries because he does not want his diaries to be read. The father does not request that his diaries be destroyed after his death because he trusts that they will not be read. If the father were still alive to know that his diaries are read, he would be disappointed and upset.

The mother understands her husbands trust and she will not read his diaries. “... She saw where he had hidden the current volume, was tempted to open it and see what it was he didn’t want her to know, and then thought better of it and replaced the papers, exactly as they were before” (p. 44). The mother does not need to read the diaries to know what her husband is like. She knows that what her husband thinks is secret and unkind because she also has unkind thoughts.

The couple’s daughter does not understand her father’s trust because she is young and does not have the wisdom that is acquired through age. Although her mother warns her not to read the diaries, the daughter does so anyway. “’It makes me feel I can never trust anybody ever again” (p. 46). The daughter learns that every person thinks dark things that are disturbing for other people to know.

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