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Mr. Waythorn is an investor in New York who works with a partner who handles the investment affairs of Alice Waythorn's second husband Gus Varick. Waythorn normally leads a quiet "gray" life colored only by his intense sensibilities, which is one reason he was drawn to Alice, who is the opposite of him, and asked her to be his wife.
Waythorn is a moral and ethical man of rational and reasonable temperament and bearing, not quick to find fault or express ill will or rancorous feelings, as is illustrated when he sees Alice talking to Mr. Varick (husband number two) at a ball. He is eminently fair and just as is illustrated by his willingness to allow Mr. Haskett (husband number 1) into his home to visit the sick daughter Haskett shares with Alice.
Waythorn's conflict are three fold. His first conflict is that he has the real conflict of coming up against the realities of his wife's broken but apparently not hostile previous marriages--or, more specifically, coming up against the men from those marriages. He finds himself in embarrassing situations and wonders if Varick (No. 2) had ever found himself in such situations with Haskett (No. 1). His second conflict is with Alice who wants a mild version of having her cake and eating it too (if you save your cake, you can't eat it) by having amiable contact with her previous husbands but not letting Mr. Waythorn know she is. His third conflict is personal: What is the ethical way to behave when brought face to face with (1) an illusion you no longer believe in and (2) tea with your wife's former husbands served by your wife in your sitting room?
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