The Forsaken Merman

by Matthew Arnold

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What is the cause for which the wife left the merman in "The Forsaken Merman"?

The cause of the wife's leaving the merman is a desire to grow up. Margaret has headed for the town to become an adult. She clearly had no truck with the wild, freewheeling lifestyle of her family, who spend most of their time on the beach. Margaret's actions are a metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood that all must experience at some point in their lives.

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The poor merman and his children are confused, upset, and isolated by their sudden abandonment by Margaret, the merman's wife. The merman is unable to move on with his life as he simply can't quite get his head around his wife's rationale for suddenly taking off to the town. Mired in grief, the merman is so upset that he's effectively lost all track of time. Hence his constant refrain of “Was it yesterday?", meaning was it yesterday that Margaret upped sticks and left her family.

But the reasons behind Margaret's departure are not really that hard to discern. The truth of the matter is that she no longer wishes to lead the kind of dissolute, free-spirited lifestyle that she has been leading with her husband and children. In simple terms, she's growing up, which is why Margaret's actions have been interpreted as a metaphor for the often difficult process of making the transition from childhood to adulthood.

That said, leaving behind her family has not been easy for Margaret. She throws herself into her work at the loom so that she doesn't have to think of those she left behind. But even so, there's no going back, just as there's no going back to childhood from adulthood.

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