The Other Three Or More

“The Descent Of Man And Other Stories” is as interesting as the previous short story collections I read of Wharton. Actually I like her short stories even better than her novels. Comparing her with other short story writers I like, for example, Alice Monroe, Everlyn Waugh, Issac Babel, John Cheever… Why do I want to compare? Comparing one writer with another is like comparing orange with apple. Well, actually I am not trying to compare her, but rather I am trying to interpret why she is known for her novels but not her short stories. Her short stories don’t have dramatic plot or surprising ending or intense emotion. The quality of the stories lie entirely on her use of language and she did it so wonderfully. I am not really interested in plot twists–when they are good they feel contrived; when they are real they feel flat.

“The Other Two” is one of such stories that confuses me–what the author really believes in. She is an advocate for women’s rights and choices, judging from her other writings. However in “The Other Two”, when women made choices three times, the author seems not to be happy about it or not to refrain from expressing the concern of the social confusion it generates. Isn’t social confusion a good thing? Isn’t it a central theme in the author’s other writings that her own society is too stubborn, inflexible, ossified that more fluidity is needed? Surely such kind of fluidity will cause confusion in a well ordered social setting where human relationships are clearly defined and human interactions are sanctioned, sometimes to the minutest degree. Not only the other two, but often the other three, four, five, or six people may run into another two to six people in awkward situations. Not really an awkward situation by human nature since we are born to live in large groups, but by social sanctions.

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