The Wide Net Summary
by Eudora Welty

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The Wide Net Summary

A man named William Wallace Jamieson has a pregnant wife called Hazel, and he's been going out a lot lately until finally, one night, he stays out all night. When he returned to his house, he found Hazel was not there, and she'd left a note saying that she had gone to drown herself in the river and that he'd be sorry for his behavior. William goes to get his friend, Virgil, with whom he'd spent the night carousing, and the pair of them round up some neighborhood men to drag the river. They have to go and get the wide net, though, and that belongs to a man called Doc. Doc doesn't believe that Hazel would have drowned herself, but he lends the men the net just the same. He goes with them to drag the river. Other people join in too.

As the men and boys work together to drag the river, they turn up a bunch of stuff: some fish, a great number of shoes, eels, alligators, and so on. They catch a baby alligator and the Malone brothers insist that they want to keep it. William Wallace keeps diving down to search for Hazel until, finally, the group decides to stop and cook some of the fish they've got for a meal. It is then, after they've eaten, that they see a giant snake that they call the King of the Snakes. They marvel over the snake, but seem to feel satisfied by their feast. Soon, a storm comes, and the lightning strikes trees around the group as they watch—it is rather exhilarating. Then group returns to town, everyone carrying their heavy strings of fish. Soon, people begin to ask if the fish are for sale, and William Wallace sells them. When William Wallace gets home, he notices a night rainbow over his house, though it clearly hadn't rained there. He goes inside and there is Hazel! She claims that she was hiding when he read her letter, and he spanks her, insisting that she say she'll never do it again. In the end, they seem happy and content again. He has proven his love to her by spending the whole day looking for her, and he has also bonded with his friends and other other men during the process.

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Wide Net” is a story about the conflict between the needs of the individual and the claims of the community. Young, pregnant Hazel Jamieson feels that the primary allegiance of her husband, William Wallace Jamieson, should be to her. When he stays out all night drinking with his friends, Hazel interprets his action as a rejection of her and of their marriage. She decides to take action.

When he arrives home, William Wallace finds a note from Hazel indicating that she has gone to drown herself. He is shocked. All he can think of is to turn once again to his friends, to the very people who got him into difficulty in the first place. Because they are used to the unfathomable ways of women, they have a remedy for every kind of trouble that women can cause men, even the threat of suicide. Although they cannot prevent Hazel from killing herself, the men can provide the necessary procedure for recovering the body: They must gather by the river and drag it with a wide net until Hazel is found.

At first, the mood is suitably gloomy; however, as the day progresses, the atmosphere becomes festive. Other people join them. With the net, they bring up a baby alligator and an eel. They swim. They feast. At times, even William Wallace forgets the occasion of the gathering in the general excitement.

At the end of the day, the gathering disperses, and William Wallace must go home. He has cut his foot, and he needs someone to take care of it for him. When Hazel comes out of hiding, the two are reconciled. Even though she pretends submission, what Hazel now knows is that she can always find a way to throw William Wallace off balance. The day he has spent searching for her is proof of his love.

What she does not realize is that the strength of the male community was demonstrated when he turned to his friends for help, and that even before she came forward to relieve his apprehensions, William Wallace had undergone a healing ceremony in the company...

(The entire section is 1,549 words.)