What is the main idea of "The Other Two" by Wharton? What is the meaning of the story?
Edith Wharton was known as a master of psychological realism. In "The Other Two," she examines the psychological journey of a man, Waythorn, who marries a woman who has been married and divorced twice before. Although such situations are relatively commonplace today, when the story was published in 1904, they were unusual.
As the story begins, Waythorn is confident that his wife's previous relationships with men will not affect their relationship. He believes he understands the reasons for his wife's failed marriages, and he is secure in Alice's love for him. Although he knows people in society gossip about them, he believes he is more advanced in his views than they.
The first problem Waythorn faces is that he runs into Alice's second husband on the train. The meeting is more uncomfortable for Waythorn than he expected. Worse is when he comes home to find Alice's first husband in his, Waythorn's, home--he has come to visit his daughter. This also creates a great deal of discomfort for Waythorn. Although Alice had painted her first husband as a very disagreeable person, Waythorn is distressed to find that he is a pretty decent fellow.
What bothers him most is when he realizes that Alice's two former husbands have made her into the woman she is, and that he is now merely "a member of a syndicate." As Waythorn works through his feelings, he finally reaches a place of acceptance of the situation and his wife. When both former husbands end up at Waythorn's house unexpectedly and Alice invites them to have tea with "ease and familiarity," Waythorn is finally able to follow her lead in treating the situation as normal, and he can even laugh.
The meaning of the story is that marriage isn't perfect, but husbands and wives take each other "for better or worse." Waythorn learns things about his wife throughout the story that he doesn't like, yet by the end, he is able to appreciate the good things about her and accept the not-so-good with a laugh.
I think the main idea of the story is that you should be careful about judging others. You can judge on little information, but you will not always be correct. Another main idea is that social conventions exist for a reason. They help us avoid discomfort and embarrassment.