Modern literature is known for questioning society and its various conventions. One question that these works often ask is, “What is real?” Some modern authors explore this question by placing their characters within self-constructed illusions that are later shattered by the introduction of reality. Marriages are frequently at the center of this theme, with one spouse crafting an illusory impression of the other. Modern literature demonstrates that a marriage built upon illusion will falter when exposed to reality.
In order to understand the effects of illusion on marriages in modern literature, we will explore two pieces: The Dead by James Joyce and Odour of Chrysanthemums by D.H. Lawrence. Both stories have central characters who have created, and lived with, a false picture of their spouse and their marriage. Firstly, I will discuss Elizabeth Bates’ negative, villainizing view of her husband in Odour of Chrysanthemums. Secondly, I will provide a contrast to that negative illusion with Joyce’s character Gabriel Conroy, who has painted a positive, idealized picture of his wife and their affection for one another.
Elizabeth Bates is an unhappy woman, particularly with regards to her husband’s drinking habits. She bitterly thinks to herself, “…he had probably gone past his home, slunk past his own door, to drink before he came in, while his dinner spoiled and wasted in waiting” (Lawrence 2247). While her husband has been brought home drunk before (2249), she has no evidence of that being the case on this particular day. This assumption is at the heart of Elizabeth’s illusion. Instead of being worried for her husband’s safety, she chooses to believe that he has no regard for hi...
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...o go on living much happier lives with other partners.
The cases of Elizabeth and Gabriel demonstrate to readers of modern literature that a marriage built upon illusion—whether it be positive or negative—cannot withstand the pressure of reality, and my own experience confirms that notion. However, my personal experience provides a glimpse of possibility: there can be happiness after the swift blow of reality. Let us hope that, in the recesses of the authors’ minds, Elizabeth and Gabriel were able to find their own happiness.
Joyce, James. “The Dead.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 8th ed. Vol. F. New York: Norton, 2006. 2245-2258. Print.
Lawrence, D.H. “Odour of Chrysanthemums.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 8th ed. Vol. F. New York: Norton, 2006. 2172-2199. Print.
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