Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
It would be possible to read “The Country Husband” as an ironic commentary on what has come to be known as a “mid-life crisis,” in which a man approaching middle age suddenly becomes infatuated with a much younger woman. Although John Cheever gently satirizes the particular form that Francis Weed’s crisis takes, however, he treats more seriously Francis’s realization that he and his friends have stopped paying attention to the meaning of life. This realization is most explicit in the moments following his recognition of the French maid: “The people in the Farquarsons’ living room seemed united in their tacit claim that there had been no past, no war—that there was no danger or trouble in the world.”
One theme of the story, then, is suggested by the question: How can life be meaningful in the absence of the sharp awareness brought on by crises such as death and war? Cheever suggests several answers. First, a consciousness of the past—of possible “danger or trouble”—is important to maintain. Francis has never had a good memory; as Cheever says: “It was not his limitation at all to be unable to escape the past; it was perhaps his limitation that he had escaped it so successfully.” The thoughtful person, Cheever suggests, maintains a balance between the ordinary surface of daily life and an awareness that the extraordinary has happened in the past, and will happen again, for better or worse.
Second, the story...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
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In ‘‘The Country Husband,’’ Cheever shows that appearances do not necessarily reflect reality. The people of Shady Hill, including the Weeds, maintain an illusion of happiness and control. Francis endures a life-threatening experience, yet outwardly, life goes on as before. During a party hosted by a married couple named Farquarson, Francis recognizes the maid as a woman he saw in France during the war. He remembers that she was publicly humiliated for living with a German officer, yet he never considers sharing her story with any of the other guests because ‘‘[t]he people in the Farquarsons’ living room seemed united in their tacit claim that there had been no past, no war—that there was no danger or trouble in the world.’’
Francis knows that life in Shady Hill means keeping up appearances. He doesn’t like this practice but he goes along with it. He begins to lose some of his inhibitions, however, after his near-death experience. Thinking about his lifestyle, he has certain regrets; the narrator explains, ‘‘Among his friends and neighbors, there were brilliant and gifted people—he saw that—but many of them, also, were bores and fools, and he had made the mistake of listening to them all with equal attention.’’ Clayton is the only resident of Shady Hill who openly criticizes the culture of the community. Francis seems to envy Clayton because he is planning to leave Shady Hill to make a life...
(The entire section is 530 words.)