Disillusioned but not disenchanted…
Throughout the realms of time and place the ideas and ideals surrounding the concepts of love and marriage change. In some societies they may go hand in hand, the thought of one automatically bringing the thought of the other, while in another society or another time the two may stand alone completely. These ideas concerning these concepts are transferred over into the literature of the periods. This transfer can be seen in the works of such authors as Ernest Hemingway in his work The Nick Adams Stories and Carson McCullers in her work A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud, even in the poetry of E.E. Cummings.
The idea of marriage litters itself throughout The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. Three stories in particular in which this can be witnessed are “Night Before Landing,” “Now I Lay Me,” and “Wedding Day.” “Night Before Landing” is the first in the war series of the stories and the concept of marriage comes up while Nick is having a discussion with his fellow soldiers. During this discussion one of the men notes that he is engaged. He notes that he had never slept with his fiancé, but that she would have slept with him. The fellow soldier returns that she would have slept with. The man simply says that the two are going to get married. In this first mention of marriage, love is also mentioned, though it is never actually stated that the two are in love; the man just seems content in getting married.
The next mention of marriage comes once again during the war section of The Nick Adams Stories, this time in “Now I Lay Me.” During this story Nick is having a discussion with a fellow soldier once again. The idea of marriage is brought into the conversation as a way of dealing with worry. This time there is no mention of love, but rather marriage is made out as a completely superficial way of getting somebody to take care of you, saying that “every man ought to married.” Throughout this conversation the soldier tells Nick that there is no need to even talk to your wife but rather just to have one with money that will be a good wife. In the first mention marriage and love where somewhat related. By this point the two have progressed to being stand alone concepts.
The final mention of marriage comes in the story “Wedding Day” of The Nick Adams Stories, in which Nick actually gets married. The story begins with a few different descriptions and really starts out with Nick and some friends drinking before the wedding. The entire wedding ceremony is skipped in the story, skipping straight to the point where the couple goes to their new home. Once again marriage is mentioned without love, further placing them as stand alone ideas.
Carson McCullers is the next author to have hints to the relations of love and marriage, this time in her story A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud. In this story there is a man who claims to have found the scientific way of being able to love anything; a man who had once been married for almost two years. He claims to have loved his wife though she didn’t love him back, running off with another man. In this case, though the mention begins with love and marriage being connected, by the end of the story love has come to stand alone. Love with a woman is said to be the last step of the science of love. This last mention of relational love being the last in the process may bring marriage and love back together, though only vaguely.
The poetry of E.E. Cummings also brings mention of love in his poem “My Love.” This poem allows for a stand alone and a superficial love. The poem, rather than describing any emotional or marital leanings, instead simply describes the physical features of the woman. This once again separates love and marriage, making them superficial.
Overall these examples of love and marriage in American literature begin to exemplify the thoughts surrounding the two concepts. As is made apparent, the ideas of love and marriage in these stories are only slightly related, most of the time being completely unrelated. This theme seems to be a commonality in the genre, or at least in these examples.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Nick Adams Stories. New York: Scribner, 1972.
McCullers, Carson. The Collected Stories of Carson McCullers. New York: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1987.
E. E. Cummings. “My Love.” The Voice That Is Great Within Us. Ed. Hayden Carruth.
New York, 1970. 171-172.