Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
When the smooth married life of a rather ordinary young couple is disrupted by the intrusion of a third person, the couple find themselves swept into an explosive situation that is beyond their capacity to control. There is certainly nothing remarkable about the protagonists, Ted and Elsie Whiston. They have been married two years, and live in a small, homey dwelling, their first house. She is a former factory worker, small and pretty, but also coquettish and superficial (“she seemed witty, although, when her sayings were repeated, they were entirely trivial”). He is a traveling sales representative, slow but solid, totally confident in the love of his wife, in whom he seems to find his whole being enriched and made whole. She has grown bored, however, and now tends to take him for granted, even mocking and jeering at him, although in spite of this she feels a deep attachment to him. It is the tension between these two contradictory attitudes that propels the story along its course.
The story begins on the morning of Valentine’s Day. Elsie is excited to find in the mail a package addressed to her. She discovers that it contains a long white stocking, in which a pair of pearl earrings has been placed. She puts them on immediately, and her vain pleasure at the sight of herself in the mirror sets an ominous tone for the remainder of the story. Hiding the earrings, Elsie pretends to her husband that the white stocking is only a sample, but at breakfast...
(The entire section is 1015 words.)
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