The Country Husband Essay

Submitted By kdigre11
Words: 1628
Pages: 7

A Blinding Conformity The pressure to conform was at its peak in the post-World War II era. Many soldiers, who had recently experienced the many horrific realities of war, were forced to return to their domestic homes. Back at their homes, their neighbors already loyally followed this path of conformity. Shady Hill is the small and seemingly perfect town in John Cheever’s short story “The Country Husband” where his protagonist and World War II veteran, Francis Weed, has rejoined his conformed society with a new conflicting outlook on the world after facing war. Lawrence Jay Dessner, a literary analyst and author of “Gender and Structure in John Cheever’s ‘The Country Husband’”, explains how “not a page in ‘The Country Husband’ is without at least one explicit mention of war or battle or a metaphor or allusion in which the idea is made present” (Dessner 63). Dessner’s claim allows us to recognize Cheever’s overuse of references to war. However, once noticing these references that Dessner explains, finding even more indicative references to war, which Dessner has not acknowledged, allows us to understand Cheever’s larger depiction of Francis’ mental stability after the war. Recognizing this mental instability highlights an even larger issue; Francis’ inability to conform to his conformist society. John G. Parks claims that conformity was the best option for the Americans during this time period (Parks 5). However, the impact of the war made it nearly impossible for veterans, like Francis, to readjust to their conformed societies; their already conformed neighbors were blinded by their own domesticity and could not see the emotions and experiences with which their country’s war heroes had faced. Cheever uses Francis, an extremely conflicted veteran, to convey the intense impact that war has on the mental stability of its participants, while he also highlights the shameful blindness of those members of society who did conform after World War II. Indeed, Dessner’s examples of the reoccurring references to war allude to Cheever’s intent to convey the intense mental impact that war has on its participants. Although, there are various other instances which further this claim that Dessner has not acknowledged. One of the first instances where this instability is made clear is at the dinner party that Francis attends with his wife Julia. Francis recognizes the housemaid who serves them dinner but cannot remember why. While trying to sift through his memories he explains his difficulty as being “perhaps his limitation that he had escaped [the past] so successfully” (Cheever 330). In this passage, Cheever tells the reader that Francis’ way of dealing with the conflicts in his past is by simply not dealing with them at all; rather, he escapes them. Escaping one’s past conflicts suggests both deeply rooted mental and emotional issues. This is mainly because one must face conflicts in order to effectively move past them with a healthy mental state. This mental instability, which occurs when people escape past conflicts rather than face them, is found to be exceedingly present in veterans. Like Francis, many veterans who face the horrific truths that come with war choose repression as a defense mechanism: they completely avoid, or “escape”, their disturbing experiences (Webb & Stafford). We once again see the mental instability derived from Francis’ past when he finally remembers where he had before seen the housemaid. Francis uncontrollably flashes back to a highly detailed recollection of his experience with the housemaid during his time in the war. Not only does this uncontrollable detailed flashback signal Francis’ mental instability after the war, but the fact that this “encounter left Francis feeling languid” (Dessner 331) signals this mental instability as well. This is because Francis should feel a pool of emotions natural to humanity after experiencing something so disturbing, yet his lack of any emotion at