Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 768
The first few pages of “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” run quickly through ten years in the life of Ralph Wyman, a young man whose father tells him, on Ralph’s graduation from high school, that life is a “very serious matter” and “an arduous undertaking,” which, despite its difficulties, can still be rewarding. Early in his college career, Ralph finds himself discarding potential careers he had envisioned for himself—law and medicine—when he finds the work too difficult or emotionally stultifying. He turns to literature and philosophy, in which he finds some stimulation. Most of his first college years, however, he spends aboard a stool in the local pub, until one special teacher, Dr. Maxwell, changes his life. Maxwell’s influence reshapes Ralph’s sense of his own future, and he becomes a “serious student,” joins a variety of campus organizations, finds himself a wife, Marian, and diligently prepares himself, during his last year, to become a teacher.
Before taking teaching positions in a small town in Northern California, Ralph and Marian marry. One afternoon on their honeymoon, Ralph walks up the road below their hotel and catches a glimpse of his new wife standing with her arms over the ironwork balustrade, her long black hair spun out by the breeze. The image is stunning, but the memory of her pose haunts him later because somehow he cannot see himself as part of the exotic world in which he imagined her for only that moment.
Five years pass quickly, and Ralph and Marian have two children. Marian teaches music at the local community college, but Ralph continues at the high school. One Sunday night, the only event to shock the quality of their relationship emerges from a memory that each has tried to bury, a memory that has reinforced Ralph’s fearful image of his wife on their Mexican honeymoon. When Marian, quite whimsically, brings up the matter of her leaving a party one night with another man two years earlier, Ralph pursues her lead and tries hard to pin her down on what it was, exactly, that had happened between them. Two years before, she had claimed that nothing at all had occurred.
Ralph’s paranoia becomes evident as he pushes his wife, almost mercilessly, to reveal the truth. Slowly and painfully, the story unravels itself, and Ralph discovers that the worst fears he has carried with him since that night are warranted. Very emotionally, Marian confesses her guilt.
The second half of the story opens later that night, as Ralph has begun a drinking binge. He has left the house to drink, and he finds himself wandering in and out of downtown bars. As he staggers down the street, he picks up pieces of conversations that haunt him with their application to Marian’s confession of her infidelity. He wanders through bars jammed with people, across steamy dance floors, and into restrooms where walls are marked with lurid obscenities. In his confusion, things he sees and hears strike him as haunting moral lessons only half-understood.
For a few minutes, he takes refuge in the back room of a bar, where a card game is in progress. After playing a few hands with the men around the table, he blurts out what had happened in an almost matter-of-fact tone, but the card players appear untouched by his trauma. He leaves and heads out to the pier, where, as he imagines, Dr. Maxwell, his favorite professor, would likely sit and watch the waves to try to come to some understanding of his problem. Ralph finds no solace near the water, however, as he is beaten by a man in a leather jacket.
It is almost morning when he opens his eyes and realizes that he has nowhere to go but home. When his children awaken, they find him sitting up, his face laced with dried blood. He runs to the bathroom to hide. Marian, obviously distraught from his absence and the specter of his bloody face, begs him to come out. He simply tells her to be quiet and prepares to take a bath. Once the children are gone, he leaves the bathroom and gets into bed. Still unsure of how he must react to his wife, he lies perfectly still when she comes to him and tries to get him to talk. When she moves toward him sexually, he tries to stay away as long as he can, but finally he cannot battle what he feels growing within him and he turns to her, “marveling at the impossible changes he felt moving over him.”
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