Themes and Meanings
There are two main themes in Ten North Frederick. One involves O’Hara’s perceptions about the relationships between American men and women during the first half of the twentieth century; the second and equally important theme concerns O’Hara’s ideas about American society itself.
At the end of the novel, O’Hara presents a bleak portrait of the Chapin family. Edith, from an established and cold distance, watches her husband drink himself to death. She cleans up his first hemorrhage herself, telling no one about it, and simply waits for the coma that finally overtakes him. Her son, Joby, sees a part of this when he visits his home, and the sight forces him out of the house in disgust. He is not present at his father’s death, nor is Ann. Except for Edith, the only close friend at Joe’s deathbed is Arthur.
On one level, this conclusion is a very dark one. Yet the key to a full understanding of O’Hara’s final ideas can be found in the relationship that is established between Joe and Edith at the novel’s end. Edith, who has always sought to control her husband, eventually realizes that there is more to Joe’s life and personality than she could ever control. This realization leads to her final respect, however distant it is, for her husband as a complex, flawed, but basically decent human being. Mike arrives at a similar assessment of Joe; though Mike is responsible for ruining Joe’s political ambitions, at Joe’s death Mike admits that his perceptions of Joe were incomplete, even stupid. At the end of Ten North Frederick O’Hara presents a...
(The entire section is 656 words.)