I am writing a paper on The Custom of the Country on Undine's lack of maternal instincts; I want to incorporate close reading of passages on missing Paul's birthday, leaving toddler Paul and Ralph...

I am writing a paper on The Custom of the Country on Undine's lack of maternal instincts; I want to incorporate close reading of passages on missing Paul's birthday, leaving toddler Paul and Ralph for a trip to Europe and blackmailing Ralph using Paul. Please help me elaborate my thesis and support it. Also, please let me know if there are any other passages or themes/ideas I should be looking at as I need to produce 6 pages. Thanks!  

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before you focus on Undine's lack of maternal instinct, you may want to go back into her background to find cues as to why Undine develops such negative traits.

Your thesis could state that Undine's lack of maternal instinct stems from a poor upbringing by weak and oblivious parents. As a result, Undine lacks the moral capital that would have allowed her to mature and develop traits such as personal responsibility, respect for self and others, empathy and sympathy.

We can see instances of bad parenting as early as chapter 1, when Undine's parents, hard up as they may be, succumb to her whims of getting a new dress despite of her having already purchased multiple dresses for which her father was still paying.

In chapter 4, Undine desperately wants her father to rent her a whole box at the theater just so that she can mingle with the upper classes. Not only does he book her the box for a day, but for every Friday during the season.

In chapter 10, Mr. Spragg again pleases her daughter once more, and at a higher level, when she insists that she must marry right away, even when he was not financially ready to prepare a wedding for her.

All of these instances denote a pattern of recklessness and carelessness form Undine toward her parents that started early in life and never really changed. In fact, this pattern got worse as she continued to move up in society and finding new ways to use her looks to benefit herself. 

It is no wonder that, when Undine finds out that she is pregnant, her reaction is one of scorn rather than joy. It means giving up, or at least sacrificing, all the attention that she continuously demands and receives for being pretty.

"Look at me—see how I look—how I'm going to look! ..."just as I thought I was going home to enjoy myself, and look nice, and see people again, and have a little pleasure after all our worries—" ..."For all the good this rubbish will do me now! I loathe the very sight of it!" she sobbed with her face in her hands.

Not only is she upset that a pregnancy will physically limit her, as it is often the case, but she is also mad that she cannot do more social climbing and engage in her non-stop networking. In short, Undine is less capable to be a mother than she is capable of being a good daughter. All of this is the result of bad parenting; one which never taught her the parameters of responsibility, consequences, and care towards others.

Evidence of this is in chapter 17, when after two years of marriage, and after giving birth to Paul, Undine forgets not just his birthday, but his birthday party as well because she was having a portrait of her painted. This type of narcissism is in part a learned behavior; she learned from a very early age that she is supposed to be center stage at everything and that nothing else matters but what Undine wants.

Therefore, start your paper with this information and expand on each instance of selfishness that Undine creates. Then, move on to the actual moment of the pregnancy, and then create a third part where you describe her reaction to the child so that you can have a "before, during, and after" scenario that you can fully write about and abound on.

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The Custom of the Country

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