By the end of Nadine Gordimer's short story "The Train from Rhodesia ," the husband has learned that his new wife does not trust him and that she expects him to be able to read her mind. Meanwhile, the wife has learned that her new husband does not...
value her happiness above everything else. They have both implicitly learned that marriage is going to demand a whole new level of communication for both of them.
The husband, for his part, thought that his wife meant it when she said that the carved lion was too expensive, but although she did not say so, she wanted him to buy it for her anyway, despite the cost. The wife wanted her husband to treat the lion as something precious and valuable, in keeping with her own opinion. She wanted the exchange with the vendor to reflect this high sense of value for her taste, judgement, and desire.
The passage in which Gordimer details the marital misunderstanding is faintly comic, as the pair sound like two bewildered, tired, fretful children. But the tone is more dark than it is comic—we sense that the dispute over the lion is a portent of a series of much more serious misunderstandings:
"If you want the thing," she said, her voice rising and breaking with the shrill impotence of anger, "why didn’t you buy it in the first place? If you wanted it, why didn’t you pay for it? Why didn’t you take it decently, when he offered it? Why did you have to wait for him to run after the train with it, and give him one-and-six? One and six!"
She was pushing it at him, trying to force him to take the lion. He stood astonished, his hands hanging at his sides.
"But you wanted it! You liked it so much?"
—"It’s a beautiful piece of work," she said fiercely, as if to protect it from him.
"You liked it so much! You said yourself it was too expensive—"
"Oh you—" she said, hopeless and furious. "You . . ." She threw the lion onto the seat.
The figure of the lion has become a symbol of the illusions that they each brought with them into the marriage.