Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 733
Henry Huxtable, his wife, and six spinster daughters lived in dreary middle-class respectability, supported by the income from a great store, the Madras-House. Their lives were in sharp contrast to that of the sales persons who were required to “live in” at store dormitories closely supervised to make sure that the store was actually as respectable as it seemed to be. Another owner was Constantine Madras, Katherine Huxtable’s brother, who had retreated from England and respectability and had lived for many years in Moslem countries.
The time had come for the sale of the Madras House; such a sale had been necessitated by confusion in family affairs. On an October Sunday, Philip Madras, Constantine’s son, heard that his father had returned to England, and he was distressed by this news of the reappearance of the elderly black sheep. But this was not the only problem that Philip wished to discuss with his uncle, Henry Huxtable. The morale of the store had been upset by the discovery that one of the closely supervised girls at the store, Marion Yates, was pregnant. It was suspected that her betrayer was Mr. Brigstock, another sales person, for he had been seen kissing the disgraced girl. The old immorality of Constantine—who, it was soon learned, had lived as the master of a harem in Arabia—and the current immorality of Marion were threats to what the Huxtables called decency.
First, the Marion Yates situation was inquired into. It was immediately apparent that the young woman would refuse to name the father of her child. Instead, she planned to bear it and bring it up as her nephew or niece; the child, at least, would not be affected by family pressures for which the Huxtables stood.
Another problem that came up concerned the prospective buyer of the store, an American named State. Mr. State distressed everyone by talking in excessively naive terms. All his phrases—such as “the Needs of the Gentler Sex” and “Woman’s Noble Instinct to Perpetuate the Race”—seemed to come from his mouth in capital letters; he was a grotesque representative of an early stage of modern advertising. Furthermore, he insultingly believed that his methods were in advance of British ones and that his presence in England would change for the better the English system of merchandising.
To State’s unconscious hypocrisy and to the self-conscious respectability of the Huxtables, Constantine Madras opposed himself and his own nature. At great length he defended his own pattern of life, one in which man was free to do what he liked and in which woman learned to like what man did. He pointed out that Arabian culture had not been feminized and intellectualized as, he claimed, had happened in England. To all such remarks, his hearers lent a shocked ear.
A further complication arose when Philip learned that he had a problem of his own: his wife Jessica felt neglected and was ready to fall in love with Philip’s best friend, Major Thomas. For the first time Philip was forced to recognize that his wife was a woman and an individual as well as a wife. His reaction to Jessica’s problem was complicated by the fact that he felt contempt for sentimentalities displayed during his mother’s fruitless interview with her estranged husband Constantine.
Philip’s moderately respectable soul was still more disturbed when he learned that his father was the father of Marion Yates’s unborn child. But Constantine did not blush at this revelation; he merely demanded care and protection for Marion and favored the company with a discourse on English priggishness. But Constantine, in turn, was distressed when Marion refused any assistance from him. Confused by her lack of social docility and feminine meekness, Constantine retreated to a cab and, eventually, to his Arabian household.
Still unresolved was the relationship between Philip and his wife. He finally recognized her as a person. To please her as well as himself, he gave up his interest in the Madras House, leaving it to Mr. State, the American. His plan was to talk matters over with his wife and to engage in activities useful to society. Both he and Jessica found themselves united by a hope that they could work together to improve the conditions of a faulty society which the sale of the Madras House had called to their attention.
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