Cheap in August Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mary Watson, an Englishwoman married to an American university professor who is in Europe to complete a study of the eighteenth century poet James Thomson, decides to take an inexpensive month’s holiday in Jamaica during the off-season. She has written her husband that an old friend from England has insisted that she accompany her on the holiday, but she has in fact gone off alone. The off-season rates explain the story’s title on its simplest level.

In the first days of her holiday, yearning for a brief affair to give her life a fillip before she enters her forties, Mary is put off by the oversized St. Louis matrons who, in hair rollers and Bermuda shorts, attempt to befriend her. As she sits and dines alone on red snapper and tomatoes, she begins to review her marriage and her life as a Connecticut faculty wife. At thirty-nine she feels ready for an affair, in part as a refuge from the staleness of her marriage to a kindly although pedantic husband who is as faithful to his scholarship as he is to her, in part as a refuge from the tedium of a university community. In the off-season, however, there are few eligible men, and Mary, alone, moves into an assessment of her sexual, social, and, although she does not know this, spiritual roles.

She knows that she is by no means unhappy with either her marriage or her position—the marriage has, the reader infers, produced no children—yet she yearns for an experience that will provide her life...

(The entire section is 572 words.)