More often than not it feels as if less attention is given to the darker, more realistic side of love. Time and time again, there are tragic ends to even the happiest, most fairytale of romances, breaking the hearts of the fictional characters involved just as much, if not more, than the readers suffering in the heartache right alongside. Throughout a constantly evolving society with ever-changing beliefs and morals, there always seems to be a new high and a new low for people in love. Tragedy strikes in a variety of ways, be it physical, emotional or mental. Sometimes, an evolutionary process beyond its time begins to take shape right before the eyes of the readers while still giving a glimpse into what life was like in an era long since gone. Yet no matter the timeframe, the one constant that rings true is that love will not always overcome all.
It didn’t take reading past the title of “Country Lovers” to be instantly attracted to this short story. Just knowing it was a story of love and romance was enough of a draw to this literary piece. No matter how the story played out between these lovers, the feelings that would most certainly be evoked from such a powerful story raised curiosity to follow the tragic-turned-morbid love story of Paulus Eysendyck and Thebedi (Clugston, 2010, sec. 3.1.). Gordimer’s short romantic story plays to multiple aspects of the imagination. Was it possible when at a time racism was running rampant throughout the world for an interracial love to thrive in a society that back then would never be tolerant to such a seemingly outlandish idea? Even in the 21st century, further removed and evolved on racism than ever before, couples of varying races still face copious amounts of harsh criticisms and insults, sometimes even succumbing to society’s unofficial standards and expectations on love. In a 2005 Cosmopolitan article from Kyle Spencer, he details some starting revelations about the stigma and negative emotions geared toward all interracial relationships, black and white specifically,
“Intermarriages between all groups are on the rise, but the pairing that seems to push the most hot buttons is black/white. ‘Many Americans are still threatened when they see blacks and whites in love,’ says Debbie Magids, PhD, a New York psychologist who has counseled biracial couples. ‘Forty years ago, most people chose partners from the same race, so the idea that racial background shouldn’t matter is still a relatively new, hard-to-accept concept for some people’” (Spencer, 2005). While a hard concept for some people to accept, both outside of the relationship and those inside of it having to adjust to the judgments made by those around them, actress Julia Stiles, who acted in the movie “Save the Last Dance” in 2001, believes that “”Probably the white person in such a relationship would have to overcompensate in terms of not being racist, and the black person in the relationship would have to prove to other black persons that he or she wasn’t selling out” (Portman, 2001).
It would rest in the hands of Paulus to make the necessary sacrifices to fulfill his commitment to Thebedi. Would he be able to block out society’s disdain for what would be deemed as an “inappropriate” relationship? Their love would e put to the ultimate test once the evolved from childhood crush and romance to a more realistic, adult love. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” delves into the shackled mind of Mrs. Louise Mallard on her rollercoaster ride of emotions through a horror that every married person’s worst fear; the unexpected and untimely death of a spouse. While initially revealing Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition and the severity that came with it, the story starts out in any other expected way when one has to break the news to another of the death of a loved one. This unfortunate task rested on the shoulders of her sister, Josephine. As one would expect someone to take such awful news,
“She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 2.2, para. 3).
A reaction expected in a situation where one’s world comes crumbling down into a million shattered, broken pieces all around. When the life that has been known for far too long is gone, within the blink of an eye. Josephine knew that once her sister had left her arms to be alone in a locked room, there was nothing else that could be done. Now it was up to Louise to begin her work on the grieving process and make sense of what had happened. However, Louise’s grieving process was unlike anything one would expect, no matter the era. An already broken-hearted love story gone terribly wrong takes an even darker, more unexpected turn when Louise begins to realize that perhaps the death of her husband was not the worst thing in the world. Not only could it not be the worst thing to happen, quite frankly, it could be the best thing to happen!
“When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body…” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 2.2, para. 11).
It was at this precise moment that Louise, still in the midst of her grieving, had a realization that was bigger than the pain she had been feeling. She saw an unexpected silver lining through it all,
“She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome. The way Paulus and Thebedi as children followed the initial spark between them and helped it evolve into a crush by exchanging handmade gifts appeals to the hopeless romantic imagination, reminding us all of a time growing up when we would exchange gifts with a childhood crush, a childhood “love”,
“The first Christmas holidays after he had gone to boarding–school he brought home for Thebedi a painted box he had made in his wood–work class. He had to give it to her secretly because he had nothing for the other children at the kraal. And she gave him, before he went back to school, a bracelet she had made of thin brass wire and the grey–and–white beans of the castor–oil crop his father cultivated” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 3.1, para. 2).
However, as the tale of Paulus and Thebedi continues and evolves, it begins to shed its fairytale romance beginning to head down a darker, more twisted, and unfortunate path. The feel from the start of a childhood crush turns into a heartbreaking, downright sickening love triangle with Thebedi as an adult and married to another man, Njabulo. Beyond the love triangle, perhaps the most tragic is the almost love between Thebedi and Paulus. It becomes excruciatingly devastating and emphasizes the notion of “almost love” because their story comes full circle all the while completely falling off-course. Paulus and Thebedi, because of their different racial backgrounds, are constantly fighting an uphill stereotyping battle to be together. Through this battle, they wind up taking different paths with Paulus going off to veterinary school and Njabulo asking Thebedi’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage (Clugston, 2010, sec. 3.1, para. 9). It would appear as if this story could still have a happy ending, though the childhood sweethearts would still be separated. Unfortunately, a happy ending wouldn’t be in store for anybody. Thebedi wound up giving birth to a baby shortly after her and Njabulo were married; yet only Thebedi knew the truth behind the birth of her daughter. Njabulo was not the father, though he didn’t see otherwise,
“She did not tell the farmer’s son that her parents had arranged for her to marry. She did not tell him, either, before he left for his first term at the veterinary college that she thought she was going to have a baby. Two months after her marriage to Njabulo, she gave birth to a daughter. There was no disgrace in that among her people it is customary for a young man to make sure, before marriage that the chosen girl is not barren, and Njabulo made love to her then. But the infant was very light and did not quickly grow darker as most African babies do. Already at birth there was on its head a quantity of straight, fine floss, like that, which carries the seeds of certain weeds in the veld. The unfocused eyes it opened were grey flecked with yellow. Njabulo was the matt, opaque coffee–grounds colour that has always been called black; the colour of Thebedi’s legs on which beaded water looked oyster–shell blue, the same colour as Thebedi’s face, where the black eyes, with their interested gaze and clear whites, were so dominant. Njabulo made no complaint” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 3.1, para. 9).
What was to follow was without a doubt one of the most gut-wrenching situations that overshadows the initial theme of “Country Lovers” as a romantic, overcoming-all-obstacles love story and ends it as a tragic, sick love story gone wrong. Once Paulus finds out about Thebedi giving birth to his daughter while he was away at veterinary school and marrying Njabulo, his attitude toward Thebedi changes, and the tides of support seem to shift from Paulus to Njabulo,
“She thought she heard small grunts from the hut, the kind of infant grunt that indicates a full stomach, a deep sleep. After a time, long or short she did not know, he came out and walked away with plodding stride (his father’s gait) out of sight, towards his father’s house. The baby was not fed during the night and although she kept telling Njabulo it was sleeping, he saw for himself in the morning that it was dead. He comforted her with words and caresses. She did not cry but simply sat, staring at the door. Her hands were cold as dead chickens’ feet to his touch, Njabulo buried the little baby where farm workers were buried, and in the place in the veld the farmer had given them. Some of the mounds had been left to weather away unmarked, others were covered with stones and a few had fallen wooden crosses. He was going to make a cross but before it was finished the police came and dug up the grave and took away the dead baby…” (Clugston, sec. 3.1, para. 22-23).
Whether or not it was Paulus’ anger toward Thebedi for moving on after multiple years of secret romance and what was thought as a true love, or if it was the fact that Thebedi kept the birth of their daughter a secret and continued to move forward in a new life with her husband, Paulus resorted to unfathomable lows to take the life of his own child. What made “Country Lovers” even more intriguing as a twisted love story was how the courts could not find substantial evidence to prosecute Paulus for his “suspected” actions toward his daughter. Full support shifted toward Njabulo when the judge in the courtroom praised him for his ability to maintain his composure through such an ordeal,
“The judge commended the honourable behavior of the husband (sitting in court in a brown–and–yellow–quartered golf cap, bought for Sundays) who had not rejected his wife and had “even provided clothes for the unfortunate infant out of his slender means.” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 3.1, para. 29).
As the sun set on such an improbable end to a once happy and hopeful love story, darkness completely encompassed the twisted path Thebedi, Paulus and Njabulo had found themselves on when Thebedi was interviewed outside of the courtroom once the verdict had passed,
“Interviewed by the Sunday papers, who spelled her name in a variety of ways, the black girl, speaking in her own language, was quoted beneath her photograph: “It was a thing of our childhood, we don’t see each other anymore” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 3.1, para. 32). How the tide had turned on Paulus and Thebedi and their once oh-so-perfect love story that was destined to step outside of the barriers of love in a societal time that had such overwhelming restrictions and rules regarding love. Unfortunately, once again, love did not overcome all, allowing the weight of society’s expectations to trump the true love that had blossomed into its sincerest form. There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow–creature.
A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 2.2, para. 13-14). Typically, the normal recovery time for a one to completely mourn and grieve the loss of a spouse is 18 months (Anonymous, 2001). While there was no doubt that Louise was still very much mourning the loss of Mr. Mallard, there was a bigger picture painting itself right before her very eyes, long before a year and a half went by. Long before a single day went by even! The realization that no longer was she tied down in a marriage that she felt trapped and suffocated in gave Louise the greatest comfort, followed by an even greater amount of jubilation and glee. Excitement filled her mind, her body, her soul and even her spirit in a way that marriage never could. It provided more than just comfort for her. It showed her that there was an entirely new life awaiting her outside of her caged life. It was an escape from the unhealthiness and toxicity that she was becoming engulfed in. It was this unhealthiness, in fact, that could’ve led to Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition (Kirkey, 2009).
A level of bottled up unhappiness that evolved to such a degree to cause physical health conditions on top of the already looming emotional unhealthiness. Most widows in the same situation could not ever fathom a life without their spouse. It was unimaginable. Some would surrender to the pressures and responsibilities of daily living on their own. A 2004 study of the mental and emotional stability of a married woman versus a widowed woman revealed, “that several years after their husbands’ death, many widows still perceive life events and hassles as significantly more intense experiences than do their married counterparts. Moreover, they report a significantly lower Sense of Coherence, diminished social support and a lower level of mental health, as compared with married women” (Death Studies, 2004). Louise exemplified the opposite of every common widow statistic available. Had Mr. Mallard not survived his accident, Louise would’ve gone on to live a more fulfilled life than she ever lived as a married woman.
As Louise began to further embrace her new sense of freedom, repeatedly whispering to herself “Free! Body and soul free!” (Clugston, 2010, sec. 2.2, para. 16), Josephine only worried that her sister was not coping well with the loss of her husband. Quite the contrary, however. She was enthralled with her breakthrough that she was free at last! She demanded that her sister leave her be. She reassured her that she was fine. Louise wanted most to just be left alone to explore her post-marriage life and what all would be in store for her. Unfortunately for her, life always works in the most mysterious of ways, throwing curveballs, sometimes at the most inopportune of moments.