The War Between the Tates Essay - Critical Essays

Alison Lurie


The main characters in The War Between the Tates are set in motion by acts of adultery. In their reactions to the marital betrayals of the two husbands, Brian Tate and Leonard Zimmern, the two couples reveal totally different visions of life. They define themselves by means of their sexual behavior.

The Tates are social and political liberals but cultural conservatives. Deep down—and not always so deep—they prize bourgeois family life and see themselves as upholders of a tradition. They are religious people without a church, heirs of rationalism and believers in progress. Thus, their self-images suffer a great shock as they entangle themselves with people whose values and orientations they cannot share. After the erotic regeneration that Brian enjoys with Wendy begins to wear off, he does not really want to endure her trivial chitchat any longer simply to have her young body at his disposal, and he does not want to move on to ever fresher Wendys. What he really wants to do is to go home to Erica and burrow back into the security of the middle-class life for which he has worked. Certainly, that is also what Erica wants.

The Zimmerns are another case. Leonard Zimmern is unique among Lurie’s characters in that he appears in four other of her novels. In Real People (1969), Leonard Zimmern is a scholar at a writers’ colony, a ruthless critic and an intent marauder among vulnerable women. Only Children (1979) goes back in time to show the fourteen-year-old Lennie, already disgruntled with life and living with his detested father and stepmother while taking out his malign urges in teasing and cruel jokes. Later on, in the early 1980’s, the setting of Foreign Affairs (1984), L. D. Zimmern surfaces as the sixtyish critic who...

(The entire section is 729 words.)