Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
The relationship of Larry, a graduate student, and his wife, Natalie, began when they were ten years old. They dated through college and married at the end of Larry’s first semester in graduate school. The emotionless tone in which this long period of time is recounted suggests that the relationship continued more out of habit than feeling. The two seem to have very different personalities and interests.
Larry is the ultimate planner. He plans their marriage to take place after his examinations; he teaches, attends classes, visits his friend Andy, a paraplegic Vietnam veteran, and his parents, cleans his car, and plays basketball in the gym—all on schedule. It is Larry who decides the couple will not have a baby until he has finished his master of arts degree.
Although Natalie seems to be passively complying with Larry’s regimen, she is actually an imaginative, impulsive, and intuitive person. She senses that Larry’s parents, especially his mother, do not approve of her because she does not center her life around him. Her greatest pleasure is to visit an art museum that contains a fascinating modern sculpture of intertwined figures. When Larry requests that she photograph their furniture for insurance purposes, she experiments with photographing parts of her own body. This incident illustrates her husband’s need for control over his life, and her own growing need to express her identity.
When Natalie inherits a 1965 Volvo from her uncle, Larry decides she should sell the car so that they can take a vacation with the money, and at first, Natalie agrees. Larry also points out that Natalie cannot drive a vehicle with a stick shift. Larry’s emphasis on Natalie’s lack of mechanical ability has undermined her confidence in the past, but now she determines to keep the car and learn to use the stick shift without telling her husband.
Choosing Michael, the sixteen-year-old boy who delivers her elderly neighbor’s paper, to teach her how to drive the stick-shift Volvo gives Natalie a non-threatening teacher. When the lessons are concluded, the fact that their employer-employee relationship has changed to a personal one is highlighted when Michael leaves the money for the lessons in the car. Although he cannot appreciate Natalie’s adult feelings, his obvious admiration provides an emotional stepping stone for a change in her life.
Buoyed by this support of her person and identity, Natalie views her total body naked in a mirror and decides that the touch of her body is like the touch of the sculpture in the museum. This sense of her physical and emotional wholeness implicitly expresses the shift or change in her life. The concluding sentence—“This was in 1972, in Philadelphia”—indicates that this is a retrospective narrative of the protagonist’s life, which has changed radically since that time.
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