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STORY 20 - 'DEATH'
The setting is in Doctor Reefy's office above the Paris Dry Goods store, in Winesburg, Ohio.
Elizabeth Willard - George's mother, she spends a great deal of her time in the doctor's office.
Doctor Reefy - A tall and awkward man, not a very graceful man though he becomes an avid listener for Elizabeth Willard's problems.
George - Elizabeth's son who is unable to comprehend his mother's death.
Protagonist - Both the doctor and Elizabeth are the main characters in the story as it is their relationship that is touched upon.
Antagonist - For Elizabeth it is her marriage and her circumstances that have turned antagonizing against her. She is a victim of her surroundings and the society that pulls her down.
Climax - On one of her rendezvous with the doctors both of them get so carried away by their emotions that they almost give in, to each other. Fortunately, a footstep is heard outside and they manage to draw back.
Outcome - The outcome of this incident is that Elizabeth takes to her bed and begins awaiting death. She finally dies, without even being able to disclose to her son the money that she has hidden.
The theme in this story is the unsatisfied needs of a woman who looks for it in the person of a listener. It also describes the notion of death as a young lover, who is waiting to take you into his young arms.
The mood is somber and dark throughout the story. Elizabeth's life story is sad and depressing. Her relation with the doctor could have brought about some lightness, but even that does not take place. The final picture of her death and her son's strange behavior is morbid and disillusioning.
Doctor Reefy's office is a large, untidy room, above the Paris Dry Goods Store. Often, George's mother, Elizabeth Willard comes to his office ostensibly to discuss about her health, but more to sit with the doctor and talk of life. George is then a boy of twelve or fourteen, and his mother forty-one years. Elizabeth speaks a great deal about her life before her marriage.
In her younger days she was quite an adventurer seeking boys out. She wished to find a real lover. She seemed to be forever putting out her hand in the darkness seeking some other hand. When she marries Tom, she marries for the sake of marriage, hoping to find some significance in it for her. But marriage doesn’t help her.
As Elizabeth sits with Doctor Reefy and describes her earlier life, she seems to change back into the girl she was and the doctor can't help noticing it. In his passion he takes her in his arms and almost makes love to her, if it wasn’t for a heavy footstep to be heard outside the door they wouldn’t have broken free from each other. Elizabeth then leaves the doctor, but after that she just begins to decline. She awaits death, personified as a young lover holding out his arms to her. In her last days she is not even able to tell George of the eight hundred dollars stowed away.
George is at first surprised at her death and is slightly displeased as it jeopardized his meeting with Helen White. But while watching the covered dead body he feels that the sheet covers a young lady who might rise any moment. He runs away from the room half blind with grief and crying, 'My mother is dead.'
Elizabeth's relation with Doctor Reefy is one between a personal and a professional one. It is her need to pour out her emotions to a sympathetic but impartial listener.
Elizabeth's past runs through a gamut of typical responses and experiences. Her search for passion, love, and the hidden wonder in life culminates into marriage. But there too she is disillusioned. She married Tom, not because she loved him, but because she was in love with the idea of marriage. His father had tried to dissuade her but didn’t succeed. His gift of the eight hundred dollars was probably to be her mainstay amidst the shambles of her marriage.
It is interesting to note the change coming over in Elizabeth as she relates her story to the doctor. While returning to her past, she physically returns to it and the Doctor can detect the earlier beauty and sprightliness of the girl. This is in an intensely psychological concept and the Doctor gets carried away by it.
But after barely escaping becoming the lover of the doctor, Elizabeth becomes hysterical and awaits death as an absolution. In her desire for death, she sees it personified, as a young man calling out to her to join him. But she doesn't wish to die till she has told her son of her stowed away treasure. 'Be patient lover. Keep yourself young and beautiful and be patient', is what she tells death.
It is a torture to her to not be able to tell her son of the money. At the last minute she is shown fighting off the same lover whom she had been earlier entreating and beckoning.
George's reaction to his mother's death is multifold. He cannot believe, that the still dead body that reminds him of a young woman’s still figure, to be that of his dear mother. At the same time, the callous youth in him reprimands her for dying at such an inopportune moment when he had planned to meet Helen White. These multi layered thoughts play havoc in his mind and there is a psychic scene where he actually imagines the covered body to be of a young woman ready to wake up. This confusion in his mind frightens him. He has to finally tell himself over and over again that she is his mother, his dear mother.
The words 'You dear! You lovely Dear' spoken first by the doctor and later by George in context with the same woman is strange and astonishing. It could probably be the similar reaction of both the men for one woman who they considered dear to their lives.
Elizabeth Willard - Elizabeth gets married to Tom Willard, against her father's wishes and reprimands. Her illusion of marriage crumbles soon after and she is left bereft and lonely.
Elizabeth finds in the doctor an avid listener and a person who understands her sorrow and loneliness. This almost makes her give in to him physically, but she is saved by sounds of footsteps outside and they retreat.
Elizabeth after this episode withdraws to her self and almost invites death for herself. Death is symbolized as a young lover and she yearns to feel his strong arms around her. She wishes to release her physical desires in the arms of Death.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The story begins with Dr. Reefy’s office and a description of the doctor. The plot develops with the entrance of Elizabeth in his life. They marry later, and lead a good life. The climatic point is when she dies leaving George Willard and the doctor bereft with grief. The only outcome of her death is the eight hundred dollars, which she had kept for George.
The plot is well formulated. The scenes follow methodically with only one backtracking into the past. The doctor is like a counselor to Elizabeth, allowing her to speak out her woes. The end is a little energetic, with George having delusions about his mother's dead body. But it is a short phase, and he extricates himself out of it.
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
The unhappiness related to a bad marriage has been depicted. It has made Elizabeth into a lonely woman hankering for love, and affection. She finds it in the doctor but even that is not allowed to be fulfilled. Finally, the last resort of oblivion in death has been described. Elizabeth prefers death to such a mindless existence and virtually invites death to possess her and carry her away.
The theme has been stressed by the recollection of her past, her father's stubbornness at not letting her marry Tom and finally her near-relationship with Doctor Reefy. George's confused behavior at his mother's death also shows the behavior of man in such extreme situations.
Explain Elizabeth's desire for death.