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Say Yes Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On its surface, “Say Yes” concerns racism, specifically, opposition to interracial love and marriage. The unnamed protagonist and his wife, Ann, both white, discuss the subject. They quarrel, or at least disagree, and nothing is resolved except that they are really fighting about their own relationship.

Sitting in any kitchen in any house in the white suburbs of America, this typical middle-class couple are doing nothing more than talking while doing the dishes one night after dinner. Most of the two-thousand-word story is dialogue about this one topic: Can two people who are from different backgrounds love and understand each other completely and meaningfully?

The husband argues “no” and the wife argues “yes,” but neither offers convincing arguments. The husband appeals to practicality, citing divorce statistics that show that such relationships are doomed to separation and failure. By contrast, Ann cites an abstract ideal of love, which would have it that if two people love each other they should be able to overcome such obstacles no matter what.

The tension builds as they snap and quip at each other, both being careful not to cross an unstated line over which they cannot retreat. In her nervousness, Ann cuts her thumb on a knife in the dirty dishwater. When she bleeds, her husband gives her every kind of attention in the forms of rubbing alcohol, bandages, and sympathy.

As the husband continues to dry the dishes, Ann resumes the argument, determined to make him agree with her. She forces speculation about what would have happened had she been a member of another race. He counters by arguing that in such a case they would have been from different social groups, would never have met, and therefore would never have fallen in love and married. Ann cannot accept this. She persists, attempting to get him to say that he would have loved her unconditionally, no matter what. She insists that this is the only possible way in which their relation can be meaningful, lasting, and pure.

On finishing the dishes, the husband notices blood on the kitchen linoleum from Ann’s wound, which he now thinks that he has caused. He meticulously cleans up the stain, leaving the floor spotless. Needing to leave the kitchen, he performs the husbandly ritual of taking the trash out to the street. He breathes deeply, focuses on the traffic, and calms himself down. Two dogs fight over the garbage can in much the same way he and his wife had been fighting over the dishes.

He returns directly to a dark house, one in which Ann has already gone to bed—but not to sleep. After he undresses and gets in bed, they lie quietly but have no contact. Ann gets up from the bed and goes quietly into the silent house. He hears her movements and knows that his wife is a stranger, if not to herself then at least to him.

Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

The unnamed husband and his wife, Ann, are washing and drying the dishes when they begin to discuss interracial marriages. The husband says that he thinks it is a bad idea for African Americans and whites to marry. His wife wants to know why he thinks so, and the narrator immediately believes that she is implying he is a racist. She responds that she doesn’t think he is racist, but she just doesn’t see what is wrong with interracial marriage. The husband says that whites and African Americans come from different cultural backgrounds, so they can never really know and understand each other. He also believes that foreigners should not marry Americans, because they come from a completely different background.

Ann, clearly upset by the conversation, cuts her hand when she plunges it back in the water to continue washing dishes. The husband runs to the bathroom to get first-aid equipment. He cleans out the cut, which turns out to be shallow and fairly superficial. He feels he has done something good by reacting to the accident so quickly, and he hopes that she will return the favor by not picking up the...

(The entire section is 1,066 words.)