Digital History at Ursinus

The Quarrel: The Masses

Dublin Core


The Quarrel: The Masses


Sex, Gender, Marriage, and the New Woman


Dodge’s “The Quarrel” Displays the Impact of the Poisonous Patriarchy on Bohemia

Mabel Dodge’s short story “The Quarrel” clearly outlines the web of conflicts created by women’s subordinate role in society at the dawn of the 20th century despite gender reform movements active in Greenwich Village. Dodge’s piece depicts how gender inequality harmed relationships by holding women to a double standard of being expected to accept male independence and distance while equally being expected to support their partner before their own endeavors. The short story also conveys how women’s lack of agency in 1910’s society left women feeling unfulfilled. All aspects of “The Quarrel,” from the form to the symbolism, function to draw attention to the nuances of how gender inequality complicated relationships and prevented couples from being able to experience pure love within a relationship.

The story was published anonymously, which is particularly interesting to consider in the context of Mabel Dodge’s other work, like her opinion pieces and artistic reviews. Dodge rarely published her own artistic work. However, she worked hard to promote the work of other artists and make their names known, so it is telling that she does not wish to promote her name in association with her own artistic exploration. “The Quarrel” was published right after Dodge’s affair with John Reed and right before her relationship began with painter Maurice Stern. The piece then occurs in a time when she might have been reflecting on how gender influenced her own relationships and how she could change the institutions that caused tension between her and Reed.

Dodge chooses not to name either of the characters in the story much, like her counterpart Neith Boyce did in her play “Enemies.” It is highly likely Dodge was heavily influenced by Boyce’s work, since both Dodge’s stories play out a conflict or “quarrel” within a relationship. Both Boyce’s play and Dodge’s story seek to illustrate the plight of women attempting to gain equal status in romantic relationships. The characters are only referred to as their pronouns, “he” and “she,” which symbolize the universality of the impact of gender inequality on a relationship. The structure of the piece also mirrors the meaning in that there are few instances of dialog or action in the whole story; the majority of the text describes “he” and “she” and their complicated inner thoughts. Dodge uses this format to convey how even a small interaction is deeply complicated by gender roles and the negotiations that men and women made in relationship as a result of the societal influence of gender roles. Showing both the male and female “thought processes” also allows Dodge to explore how the patriarchy harms both men and women.

Dodge uses weather as well as light and dark symbolism to depict the emotional impact of inequality. Dodge depicts the setting, writing, “For days the rain had fallen and the sky had been blind, and all life had seemed gray to her. She wondered what she wanted to do, but searching herself she found no paths leading out from her” (16). Dodge uses the dreary scenery to illustrate how lifeless women felt as a result of not being able to pursue their own work and being controlled by men. Describing the sky as “blind” conveys how society is mostly “blind” to the injustice caused by gender inequality. Dodge chooses to describe the character’s life as “gray” to depict how life without an occupation or pursuit was void of feeling and left women feeling useless and blank without identity. Dodge continues to use light and dark imagery to display how work as a source of identity and vitality denied to women. When the man returns home Dodge depicts his face “full of light” to illustrate how he is fulfilled by the agency he has over his life as a result of being able to work and have an existence outside of the home and outside of his romantic relationship (16). The very next sentence contrasts the woman, particularly how “Her own inner darkness deepened as she spoke and darkness was her burden” (16). Dodge describes her darkness as “inner” in order to convey how women were expected to keep inside their emotions and not show their discontent. She depicts the man and the woman working and writes, “During the evening they read from the light of separate lamps, the woman sensing her strength, the man wondering” (16). The use of the lights symbolizes how when both have their own work they were able to feel more fulfilled and find their own light. The man is described as “wondering” because he is not used to the woman operating equally to him and is uncomfortable with being equal to his wife. Though he says, “I don’t want to be away from you—you know that. I tried to get out of it but I thought it was the least I could do to go this time after refusing so often. I should see more people then I do—one needs people,” he does not allow his wife to also explore outside of their relationship in the same capacity. This depicts how gender inequality manifested in Bohemian relationships.

Dodge also the metaphor of “coldness” to depict how gender inequality not only left women unfulfilled but also destroyed romance and love. Dodge describes how the woman’s reactions to the man’s freedom. Dodge writes, “All her blood had turned icy in her—and she felt it course through her whole body to the outermost tips of fingers and feet with its cold and acid flux” (16). Blood is typically hot, and therefore her blood turning icy conveys the idea of love not being able to exist between them as they face inequality in opportunity to pursue their own identity. Dodge also describes the force as “acid” to convey how inequality destroys both men and women and prevents them from self-exploration and fulfillment. In the conclusion, she describes the absence of romance, writing how the couple “could feel only coldness and indifference all that day and the next,” and continues that, “Like two frozen forms they moved along rigidly through the hours” (16). Though the woman starts as the cold one, the conclusion depicting them both as cold conveys the issues of women being just as destructive for men’s ability to experience love. The symbolism of the cold is reflected also in how the relationship depicted in “The Quarrel” conveys little reason why the couple actually love each other. Though Dodge does write “that underneath all they loved each other,” the relationship as depicted contradicts that statement in order to convey that love cannot exist in such inequality.

Dodge’s piece illustrates that she understood the universality of the issues of gender inequality as well as the emotional and personal impact it had on women in the Village. She would have experienced this herself in how her recent partner, Reed, liked to have affairs with other women and pursued his own work while still desiring Dodge’s effusive attention. Dodge left Reed in order to maintain her own autonomy, so in that sense “The Quarrel” exists as a sort of cautionary tale or parable for other women of the Village still trying to fight for the ability to seek their own identity and engage in relationships with men.


Mabel Dodge


Tamiment Library, NYU


The Masses


September 1916


Max Eastman






Short Story

Text Item Type Metadata


"The Quarrel"

Original Format





Mabel Dodge, “The Quarrel: The Masses,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed December 14, 2019,