(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although Stead is a “realist” in the sense that she has a perfect eye for the surface of reality and deals with the sordid underpinnings of domestic life, one important element in the novel is entirely artificial: the speech often used by the major characters. Sam, who has the largest speaking role, attempts to coax, badger, and overwhelm the other characters with a steady stream of monologue that is ultimately irritating to the reader. Language, to Sam, is part of the Eden he tries to create at home, complete with animals he has named. The children’s names are important; Sam creates endless nicknames for them to consolidate his domination. Little Evie, his favorite child, becomes “Little-Womey,” Louisa becomes the ridiculous “Looloodirl,” and Sam’s favorite epithet for himself is “Sam the Bold,” an appellation that he profoundly believes.

Sam also makes up an artificial language in which he addresses the children. This language, loved by the children, is so obscure that Stead often pauses during the narrative to interpret for the reader. It expresses the father’s often-stated desire to become one of the children, for without their devotion he hardly exists. In addition to this “baby talk,” Sam’s discourse abounds in song lyrics, nursery rhymes, foreign dialects, and pious moral pronouncements, all of which captivate the children. Yet Sam’s speech does not reflect reality. When Ernie, the oldest son, questions the father’s contention that he can make it rain, Sam insists that he can and the younger ones believe him. For the reader, however, this scene powerfully reveals the nature of Sam’s relationship with the children.


(The entire section is 684 words.)