Analysis Of The Moving Finger By Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton, the first woman to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, was an extremely vocal and critical figure of her time. She was born in 1862 and made it her life’s mission to bring the place of women at home and the workplace and the treatment of women into the spotlight. She was a sort of revolutionary.
The Moving Finger, a fictional short story written in 1899, has some resemblance to her own life. This short story is about Mr. Ralph Grancy and his second wife, a stunning woman whose beauty was beyond compare, and how her death changed him. Edith Wharton’s first husband had clinical depression and she left him for a man who shared her intellectual capacity. They ran away to France where she helped refugees fleeing from the war. Wharton makes Ralph Grancy an attractive and dislikeable character in her story by using intense characterization that helps readers see Grancy in every possible way, many botanical references that help mould Grancy in her readers’ minds and dialogue, to show how Grancy would converse with someone in real life. Her usage of characterization, botanical references and dialogue help readers see Grancy in a new light and help their ambiguous thoughts on him solidify. Wharton uses references to nature in the very first paragraph of this story. From then, there are many botanical references to Grancy and his life as well as the effects of his wives on him.
“Grancy’s life was a sedulously – cultivated enclosure, his wife was the flower he had planted in its midst – the embowering tree, rather, which gave him rest and shade at its foot and the wind of dreams in its upper branches.” Here, along with the reference to nature, Wharton’s diction plays a very important role. The word ‘sedulously’ here connotes the idea of a certain painstaking tending to his life so that it would be perfect. The readers see that Grancy’s life was an almost perfect garden, with a flower that turned into a tree and provided him with rest and the promise of dreams. This description of his life was when he had first gotten married. After the first Mrs Grancy’s death, the narrator describes him as “a tree from which a parasite has been stripped.” Here, again, diction plays a very vital role. The word ‘parasite’ connotes something that gets its nourishment from another without killing it. Here, the readers figure out that the first Mrs Grancy was a parasite and Mr Grancy was the host that kept supplying her with whatever she needed and was indirectly harmed by association.
After the second Mrs Grancy is introduced, the narrator says Mr Grancy has “burst into flower.” The word ‘flower’ here connotes a period of prosperity or productivity, and also a feeling of growth and beauty. The fact that Mr Grancy has ‘burst into flower’ can only mean that this new woman in his life is going to be a good thing, a new start after his ‘parasitic’ former wife. The readers see here that Mr Grancy reflects and reacts to the events taking place around him, and is extremely sensitive to the people in his life. The readers see him as a sensitive, kind person who has had a bout of bad luck with an unhappy marriage and a dead wife, but is now ready for better days. This positivity and sensitivity helps the readers picture Grancy as a character to be able to sympathize with.
Dialogue plays a key role in developing Grancy’s character. As readers, we can try and place ourselves in settings such as those where Grancy is conversing with another character and further our views and interpretations of him. “‘ – Look at me!’ He pointed to his gray hair and furrowed temples. ‘What do you think kept her so young? It was happiness! But now -’ he looked up at her with infinite tenderness. ‘I like her better so,’ he said. ‘It’s what she would have wished.’” Here we see what the second Mrs Grancy’s death has done to Mr Grancy. He is so wrapped around her little finger that he feels bad about aging without her. This selfishness and abnormality can lead readers down two paths. One, they think that what Mr Grancy’s doing is very romantic and sweet, the idea of preserving Mrs Grancy’s essence in a painting and making her age with him. Or two, it’s very odd to have a large painting hanging in one’s home as a sort of shrine to her, even though she’s dead and this aging man is very hung up on her. This controversy between loving and strange is only furthered as the story progresses, as the narrator recounts another instance where Mr Grancy’s character and sanity is very questionable, “I used to say to her, “You’re my prisoner now – I shall never lose you. If you grew tired of me and left me, you’d leave your real self there on the wall!” The readers who thought this was romantic should be or are wondering when this behavior was ever normal. Not only does this connote the confinement of Mrs Grancy’s spirit in the painting, but also the normativity of seeing a woman completely and totally being devoted to a man, in some cases, without any other choice.
Later in the story, Mr Grancy again brings up his, now, aged wife and its benefits to him, “to him it was a picture lost, to me it was my wife regained.” Whatever romance the readers once thought there was, has now completely gone. Mr Grancy is very visibly sick. He is delusional, and still thinks his wife is alive, in the painting. The readers views change again. We see Grancy as a delusional old man with a painting that he loves. Characterization helps the readers see Mr Grancy’s personality evolving. This helps readers understand this character more accurately, by showing how they respond to different situations, Wharton gives the readers a glimpse of their view on various topics.
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