What is the situational irony of Francis Weed’s expectation when he first arrives home at the beginning of the story? What actually happens? What is Clayton Thomas’s expectation after his conversation with Francis? What actually happens?
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John Cheever's title to his short story about Francis Weed and his environment is itself ironic as Francis is not the strong "country husband" of independent and vital spirit, but rather a husband who has surrendered his life and his respected paternal role in the family to the tame, artificial and socially regimented life of the upscale community with the innocuous name of Shady Hill.
When Francis returns home, anticipating the report of his near-death experience, he is met with familial reactions and interaction quite contrary to his expectations. His announcement that his plane crashed is met only with the selfish "deaf ear" of pampered children and the trivial reports of their sibling rivalries. Even when Francis seeks to assuage his youngest child's discomfort by suggesting, "Daddy was in a plane crash this afternoon, Toby. Don't you want to hear about it?" the child continues to cry, ignoring his father. Further, when Francis tells his wife Julia that he would like to return to a peaceful home every day rather than a battlefield and that this day he was on a plane that crashed, Julia is "deeply concerned" and her voice "trembles," but only because Francis has called their home "a battlefield." Ironically, she makes no response to his news of a plane crash.
Later in the narrative, when Clayton Thomas comes to the Weed's home to remit his mother's payment for theatre tickets, he is invited to sit down. Clayton explains that he cannot continue at college because his mother cannot afford to send him (his father died in war). However, he expands upon his plans to possibly attend divinity school, work at a bank or for a publisher. When Clayton announces that he and Anne Murchison are engaged to be married, "Francis recoiled at the mention of the girl's name. Then a dingy light seemed to emanate from his spirit." When Julia returns, Francis derogates the boy as irresponsible, affected, and smelly. Taken aback by these comments, Julia accuses Francis of becoming intolerant. Clayton has probably thought that his candor and intent to improve himself have met with Francis's approval and hopes that Mr. Weed will recommend him; however, when his associate Trace Bearden, who does feel positively about the youth, phones Francis, requesting that he try to find Clayton a job, Bearden must be shocked to hear Francis malign the young man:
Trace, I hate to say this...but I don't feel that I can do anything for that boy. The kid's worthless....Any kindness done for him would backfire in everybody's face. Even if we got him a job, he wouldn't be able to keep it for a week....He's a thief.
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