(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Wide Net” is a story about the conflict between the needs of the individual and the claims of the community. Young, pregnant Hazel Jamieson feels that the primary allegiance of her husband, William Wallace Jamieson, should be to her. When he stays out all night drinking with his friends, Hazel interprets his action as a rejection of her and of their marriage. She decides to take action.

When he arrives home, William Wallace finds a note from Hazel indicating that she has gone to drown herself. He is shocked. All he can think of is to turn once again to his friends, to the very people who got him into difficulty in the first place. Because they are used to the unfathomable ways of women, they have a remedy for every kind of trouble that women can cause men, even the threat of suicide. Although they cannot prevent Hazel from killing herself, the men can provide the necessary procedure for recovering the body: They must gather by the river and drag it with a wide net until Hazel is found.

At first, the mood is suitably gloomy; however, as the day progresses, the atmosphere becomes festive. Other people join them. With the net, they bring up a baby alligator and an eel. They swim. They feast. At times, even William Wallace forgets the occasion of the gathering in the general excitement.

At the end of the day, the gathering disperses, and William Wallace must go home. He has cut his foot, and he needs someone to take care of it...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

The Wide Net Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the vernal equinox approaches, Hazel Jamieson, three months pregnant, refuses sexual relations with her husband, William Wallace Jamieson. Mystified and hurt by this rejection, William Wallace spends a night out, drinking with his bachelor friend Virgil Thomas. On returning home in the morning, he finds a note from Hazel announcing that she will not put up with him any longer and has drowned herself in the Pearl River. William Wallace and Virgil then organize a party to drag the river for her, using the wide net that belongs to the local patriarch, Old Doc. The scholarly Doc questions the pair closely to be sure that they have a good reason for using the net, because William Wallace has used it within the last month, and it is not his turn. When Doc believes it possible that Hazel may have drowned herself, he reflects that “Lady Hazel is the prettiest girl in Mississippi . . . A golden-haired girl.” He decides to join the search.

As the search gets under way, it takes on a mystical, ritual quality. Doc observes that this is the equinox, the time of change from fall to winter, when all of creation seems made of gold. William Wallace responds by thinking of Hazel as “like a piece of pure gold, too precious to touch,” then asks, mysteriously, for the name of the river they all know so well. Like Hazel, the river, though familiar, becomes mysterious, “almost as if it were a river in some dream.” William Wallace’s search of the river becomes a metaphor for his attempt to fathom the mysterious depths of Hazel’s character.

Other ritual elements include the two black boys who push Doc in an oarless boat, the mysterious objects dredged up from the bottom, Virgil’s refusal to allow strangers to watch them, William Wallace’s deep dives, the fish feast, William Wallace’s phallic dance...

(The entire section is 745 words.)