The first two chapters of The Well establish the two plot lines of the novel. The novel’s central relationship is suggested in the first brief chapter, when Hester Harper answers her father’s question as to what she has brought him, “I’ve brought Katherine. . . I’ve brought Katherine, but she’s for me.” Casually, Hester has acquired a teenage orphan who is no longer needed at the store where she has been working. As the novel progresses, Katherine becomes the center of Hester’s life and the target of her unacknowledged sexual desires.
The second plot line, which affects the relationship between Hester and Katherine, is related in the second chapter and again midway through the novel. Driving back to the farm late at night, Katherine hits something or someone. To protect Katherine or, perhaps even more important, to protect the relationship between Katherine and herself from invasion by the outside world, Hester loads the mysterious creature into the car and drops him, or it, down the well.
Beginning with Hester’s first meeting with Katherine, the novel then traces their life together up to the point of the accident. Threatened with return to the orphanage, Katherine is delighted to be taken in by the crippled, kindly spinster, who lives alone with her father on a farm at some distance from the little village where Hester found Katherine. From the beginning, Katherine is helpful in the household. Yet instead of devoting her time to the business, which obviously will be left to her at her father’s death, Hester is so besotted with Katherine that she becomes part playmate, part governess. The woman and the girl become inseparable. After three years, Hester’s father dies, leaving her the property. Despite the advice of her father’s friend, Mr. Bird, Hester embarks on a spending spree and neglects the farm. At last, persuaded by Mr. Bird, she sells the farm, with its large house, and settles with Katherine in a small stone cottage at one corner of her property. There they are happy, indulging their...
(The entire section is 840 words.)