Who is the antagonist (and why) of the short story "How I Met My Husband" by Alice Munro?
The antagonist in “How I Met my Husband” by Alice Munro is the young pilot Chris Waters. An antagonist is a character that creates conflict for the protagonist, and he is the main character in this story to threaten what Edie really wants. Edie wants to maintain a good reputation with her employers. She has failed high school, having earned the lowest grade in her class (a 37 percent), and is working for the Peebles in lieu of attending school or helping at her parents’ farm. At the Peebles’ very “modern” house, Edie gets to enjoy weekly baths, daily soda drinks, florescent lights, washing machines, and other commodities of comfort and ease. Her parents’ farm is without these commodities, which make housework easier, and so she treasures them greatly.
Chris begins to threaten Edie’s reputation at the Peebles' the moment he shows up. He peeps through the screen door at Mr. and Mrs. Peebles’ residence and sees Edie dressed up like she is going to a dance. Edie fears that he will hurt her reputation with Mrs. Peebles by mentioning that she put on Mrs. Peebles' dress. Edie says, “Mrs. Peebles might not fire me, when she found out. But it would give her a different feeling about me altogether.” She knows the Peebles like to think that she does not “notice things” or “wonder” about the family’s personal life beyond what they like to eat and “how they like things ironed.”
Chris uses the water pump as an excuse to visit Edie frequently. One might imagine that he is waiting for an opportunity to get her alone, which is perhaps why he says he thought she would stop by his tent again after the first meeting. He seems to expect a physical encounter. Eddie is only fifteen, much younger and much more naïve than Chris. She does not realize she is being pursued by Chris, nor does she understand what she is being pursued for. Chris is already engaged and has been to war. He has likely experienced “intimacy” with other women. Many men who have been to war are exposed to one-night stands and prostitution. It is also well known that war can make it hard for veterans to return to “normal life.” It is less well known that PTSD from warfare can make true emotional intimacy very difficult. Emotional intimacy is difficult because PTSD makes processing emotions difficult and intensely painful. Thus, long-term commitments to lovers are often complicated. Many veterans also lose that “feeling of home” and find it difficult to fit into a society that is so different from the one they have gotten used to: a war of constant movement, constant excitement, and constant fear of death and loss. Men with PTSD from warfare may establish physical intimacy and false emotional intimacy if given an opportunity in order to (for a brief moment) stop feeling isolated. Sadly, sometimes, this desperate feeling to be close is satisfied with prostitutes.
Even if Chris is not one to solicit prostitutes, it is a fair inference to say that Chris has an “Edie” wherever his plane has landed. This can be inferred in that Alice seems to have anticipated his unfaithfulness. Alice tells Edie, “Loose little Bitch. I knew as soon as I saw you. Girls like you are . . . just public conveniences. Just filthy little rags!” Alice had met Chris while attending to him as his nurse, and so perhaps the Florence Nightingale Effect is behind their initial romance. (The Florence Nightingale Effect refers to a dynamic where nurses “fall in love” with their patients, even though little contact outside of caregiving allows real emotional intimacy to develop.) Regardless, the end of the story, after the climax, where Edie’s “intimate” encounter with Chris is discovered by Alice and Mrs. Peebles, Edie’s reputation has been damaged. Alice considers her just one of many “filthy little rags," and Mrs. Peebles (believing that Edie did not actually have sex with Chris) still feels the need to keep her eye on Edie all the time. Edie's freedom is limited because her employer distrusts her.
Chris has degraded the young, unsuspecting teenage girl, having taken advantage of her naivety. He further degrades her by never actually sending his promised letter. Edie, like Alice, eventually has to guess that she is not in Chris’s future plans. He either fears hurting women by explaining how he wants to use and then leave them, or he is in denial about his own abilities to experience real relationships post-war. Whatever his motives for damaging unsuspecting female reputations, he is the antagonist of this story. By the end of the story, Chris has even thrown a barrier between Edie and her future husband. Edie is too ashamed to expose why she waited for the mail each day with a smile. She was really waiting for the veteran pilot who used her and then ran.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
The question of Edie's antagonist is an interesting one. Within the story, there is no single character against whom she must strive consistently to prevail, nor is there one individual who plays the central role in the major conflict of the story. Loretta Bird annoys Edie and treats her with disrespect, Chris Watters inspires her romantic fantasies, Mrs. Pebbles gives her a job but doesn't treat her well, and Alice Kelling shows up as her competition with Chris, but not one of them unifies the story as Edie's protagonist; instead, each one plays a role--significant or insignificant--in Edie's journey toward maturity.
Edie's real antagonist, then, is her own inexperience because she is just becoming a young woman. Her youth and inexperience account for all of her struggles in the story. When she finally grows up, through suffering and disappointment, Edie finds real love, marries, and establishes her own home. In doing so, she leaves everyone behind who had played, as it turned out, minor roles in her life overall.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial