Patricia Highsmith intends the novel to work on three levels. First, Edith’s Diary presents a domestic drama that chronicles one woman’s descent into insanity as the dream of her life collides with the reality of it. Edith must come to terms with the anarchy that family life threatened to become in America between 1955 and 1975, including such elements as rebellious children, betrayal, divorce, the economic necessity of working women, and the failure to meet the expectations of domestic tranquility of the older generation. Edith is constantly torn between her desire to find something—anything—admirable in Cliffie and her distaste for the drunken deadbeat he successfully aspires to be. She understands George’s assessment of Cliffie as a product of the television age, an age characterized by passivity, cynicism, and powerlessness. It is not, as George explains, an age for heroes.
Edith must also contend with a marriage that dies less of neglect than of her husband’s failure to fulfill his commitment to the duties that her dream of marriage entails. Brett openly despises Cliffie and, as Edith realizes, simply writes him off as a “bad job.” In addition, Brett allows George to move in with the family but then leaves his care almost exclusively to Edith, finally abandoning his uncle entirely when he moves to New York with Carol. His inability to persuade George to move to a nursing home indirectly sets up Cliffie’s murder of the “Old Vegetable.” Edith excuses Brett as long as possible, believing that his affair with Carol is only a phase. The divorce and the birth of his daughter with his new wife, however, make the betrayal tangible for Edith, who can only counter with Cliffie’s imagined success in the diary. The divorce also forces Edith into the workforce and prompts her to bastardize her articles and stories in order to sell them.
Melanie, Edith’s great-aunt, serves as her...
(The entire section is 789 words.)