(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Little Wife” is the account of a five-hour train trip, during which the protagonist, Joe Hinckley, attempts to postpone facing an almost unbearable grief by chatting with his fellow passengers. There is little external action in the story and seemingly no real tension. However, writing as an omniscient author, William March reveals the two conflicts on which the story is built: that between the passengers and their talkative companion and that between Joe’s rational and emotional selves.

The story begins as Joe is boarding the train in Montgomery, Alabama, which will take him to his home in Mobile. After he is settled, Joe looks at some of the people near him. There are a couple of giggling young girls just ahead of him, and across the aisle sits a stern-faced country woman with a goiter. Again Joe looks at the telegram he had found waiting for him when he went back to his hotel after lunch. In it, his mother-in-law had informed him that his wife, Bessie, had borne him a son but that she was not expected to live through the day. As he thinks about how happy he and Bessie have been during their brief year of married life, Joe cannot help noticing the tender concern of a nearby elderly woman for her own husband. Then, hearing a porter calling his name, Joe claims a telegram that has just been sent on by his hotel. He does not open this second telegram. Instead, he goes to the back vestibule, tears it up, and tosses the pieces off the train....

(The entire section is 481 words.)