“The Country Husband” exemplifies John Cheever’s interpretation of life, values, and futile rebellion among neighbors and families. In Shady Hill, a suburb within commuting distance of New York, wives are concerned with dinners, social gatherings, and social status; daughters are absorbed in romance magazines; children bicker on household battlefields; and husbands delude themselves with fantasies of romance as they struggle merely to be acknowledged.
Clayton Thomas, who is engaged to Anne Murchison, a baby-sitter, offers a summary of Shady Hill: “What seems to me really wrong with Shady Hill is that it doesn’t have any future. So much energy is spent in perpetuating the place—in keeping out undesirables, and so forth—that the only idea of the future anyone has is just more and more commuting trains and more parties.”
Francis Weed, the story’s central character, seems to agree, for he thinks that there is “no turpitude.” Life seems “arranged with more propriety even than in the Kingdom of Heaven.” The story begins as Francis survives a plane’s emergency landing, but upon his return to Shady Hill, he can find no one to listen to his harrowing experience. The superficiality of life in Shady Hill becomes especially clear when Francis sees a maid at a party and realizes that he saw her in France during World War II: She was publicly humiliated for being a collaborator with the Germans. Shady Hill residents consider...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
“The Country Husband” recounts Francis Weed’s brief rebellion against the mundane norms of his prosperous, dull community. Francis and Julia Weed have long been at the center of social life in Shady Hill, experiencing the conventional joys of suburban marriage and child rearing. Events conspire to jog Francis out of complacency and make him question his satisfaction with life.
The first of these events is a plane crash. Returning from a trip to Minneapolis, Francis and his fellow travelers experience an emergency landing in a field outside Philadelphia. They are shepherded to a nearby barn, and Francis takes a train to New York that arrives in time for him to catch his normal commuter train to Shady Hill. Naturally shaken by this occurrence, Francis is dismayed to discover that no one at home seems able to understand his brush with death. He arrived home on time, he looked fine—all his family went on with their normal routine. In fact, his children are more quarrelsome than usual, and Francis irritably compares his home to a battlefield, sending his wife upstairs in tears.
The next day, Francis is again disconcerted when he recognizes the new French maid at a neighbor’s dinner party. After some pondering, he realizes where he has seen her before: At the end of World War II, he had witnessed her public humiliation by the people of her town in Normandy. She had been accused of living with a German officer during the occupation of France. As punishment, her head had been shaved and she had been made to stand naked before the townspeople. This memory overwhelms Francis, all the more because he does not feel able to share it with anyone, not even his wife. This experience, combined with the trauma of the plane crash, has made Francis suddenly aware of mortality, of danger, of passion, and his senses are heightened. Something is bound to...
(The entire section is 763 words.)
“The Country Husband” typifies Cheever’s use of humor to underscore the absurd ways in which people, like the hero Francis Weed, attempt to overcome a sense of having suddenly become displaced, socially or sexually. An emergency airplane landing in a field while returning from a business trip precipitates Weed’s crisis; he will soon run the risk of becoming as unwanted as his namesake in his suburban Garden of Eden, Shady Hill. Once returned, he can find no audience for his tale of near-extinction: His children turn the house into a battlefield, and his wife, Julia, prepares, serves, and eats the family dinner while pretending to ignore the chaos.
Escaping into his back yard, Weed finds not the peace and understanding he craves but instead the proof of Shady Hill’s essential triviality: old Mr. Nixon defending his bird feeder from the squirrels, while another neighbor, Donald Goslin, plays (as he does every night) the “Moonlight Sonata” in “an outpouring of tearful petulance, lonesomeness, and self-pity—of everything it was [Ludwig van] Beethoven’s greatness not to know.”
Curiously, Weed’s awareness of the self-pity of others does not prevent him from succumbing to it himself as he falls madly in love with the teenage baby-sitter whose very name—Anne Murchison—adds to the story’s comic absurdity, as it effectively undermines Weed’s exalted image of her and his mistaken belief in her power to restore him to his...
(The entire section is 402 words.)