City Life Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“City Life” is told in the third person through an omniscient narrator. The story begins with a description of Beatrice’s childhood and follows her as she marries Peter Talbot, has three boys, and moves with her husband and children from Ithaca, New York, to an apartment in New York City. The young Beatrice’s father is a gravedigger, and her mother is a housewife. Both are alcoholics. The family lives in a one-room, windowless house, down a dirt road in the middle of the woods. The single room serves as bedroom, kitchen, and living area and provides no privacy for any family member. In addition, the house is filthy and disorderly.

Beatrice learns about cleanliness and beauty from her teachers at school and stays away from home as much as possible. She moves out of her parents’ house two days after she graduates from high school. She goes to Buffalo and works for five years in a tool-and-die factory while she attends night school at the community college. She then enrolls full time in the elementary education program at the University of Buffalo. She meets Peter at the university and eventually loses touch with her parents.

Peter, a mathematics major, sees in Beatrice clarity, simplicity, and thrift. Though she does not enjoy making love to Peter, Beatrice feels obligated to him for providing so well for her. During their marriage, she bears three boys. They live in Ithaca, New York, a small lakeside college town. She is a clean, efficient housewife.

Peter wins a three-year fellowship to Columbia University in New York City. His salary is doubled with no teaching obligations, and his only responsibility is to do research with a man who is a leader...

(The entire section is 691 words.)