Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“Firstborn” opens as Charles, the protagonist, is reading from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1886) to his wife, Katherine, who is in labor. She has fallen asleep, but he continues to read. He reads the part in which Pierre, realizing his feelings for Natasha, goes out under the Moscow skies and sees the comet of 1812, “a comet that is supposed to portend all sorts of disasters but for him speaks ’his own softened and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life.’” This quotation from War and Peace foreshadows the course of the story.
As Katherine sleeps, Charles thinks about their marriage four months earlier. She had been pregnant by then, and he had assumed that the child was his. Later, she confessed that there had been a relationship with another man but that the child was Charles’s, that she would not have married him if it were not. At first, he considered divorce but could not go through with it. Then followed a period of turmoil in their marriage. Finally, two weeks ago, as they were leaving a party, his anger had risen and he had impulsively kicked her and sent her sprawling on the icy sidewalk.
Now, although she is only seven months along in her pregnancy, Katherine is about to give birth. The contractions become more severe, and they leave for the hospital. The events leading to the birth and subsequent death of Nathaniel, their firstborn, follow. Later, after hearing that the child has died,...
(The entire section is 361 words.)
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