In "Early Autumn," why did Mary and Bill not marry when they were young?  

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mrshh | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Bill and Mary had been in love with each other when they were both young. When they were a couple, they used to take evening walks and talk together. They stopped speaking after "something not very important had come between them." The reader is never told exactly what broke them apart, only that it was something unimportant. By stating that it was not important, Hughes implies that Bill and Mary regretted it. Hughes also notes that Bill became bitter toward women after they parted. This implies that Mary had initiated the end of their relationship.

Years after they went their separate ways in Ohio, Bill and Mary ran into each other in New York City. They briefly stopped to chat, and found out that they both lived there. Each had married someone else. Mary had gotten married impulsively after she and Bill ended their relationship. She had three children. Bill had married a woman named Lucille and had two children.

After meeting on that autumn day, Bill and Mary exchanged pleasantries. Hughes shows Mary's sense of regret about their relationship ending because "she found herself desperately reaching back into the past." In addition, he explaina how Mary "had married a man she thought she loved." Mary knew she had loved Bill many years before. She also told Bill that she had thought of him, wondering about his life.

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poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Langston Hughes answers this question in the first paragraph of "Early Autumn," writing:

When Bill was very young, they had been in love... Then something not very important had come between them, and they didn't speak. Impulsively, she had married a man she thought she loved. Bill went away, bitter about women. 

The reader is not given clear indication of what this unimportant but apparently irreconcilable difference was between the two. Still, Bill seems to feel consternation at meeting his former lover in Washington Square, frowning slightly when he learns that Mary lives in New York and feeling the inclination to tell her that she looks "old." We learn that Mary "had been older than [Bill] in Ohio," and that "Bill was still young," which suggests that the "something" that came in between them was a result of their age difference. We also learn that Mary has a child named Bill... could this allude to the possibility that Mary had wanted children when they were together, while Bill did not? Or is it simply that Mary has never fully recovered from the breakup? Regardless of why they separated, this former couple parts ways once again without any method of contacting each other again in the future. 

mkcapen1's profile pic

mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The couple in Langston Hughes story "Early Autumn" meet by chance after many years.  The man recalls that they had broken up for reasons that he could not recall.  Something had come between them.  The story makes mention of the woman's age.  It tells us that she is looking old and that she is much older than the still "young man." 

As the two part the woman still looks at him longinly but does not tell him that her youngest child is named Bill.  One can surmise that the age difference between the two may have affected her decision to break up with the man or she could have gotten pregnant and went away to have the child. 

"She had been older than he then in Ohio. Now she was not young at all. Bill was still young."

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