Digital History at Ursinus

The Parting

Dublin Core

Title

The Parting

Subject

Sex, Gender, Marriage, and The New Woman

Description

The Loneliness of The New Woman: Dodge’s Short Story Displays Bohemian Women’s Disenchantment with Love Caused by Male Domination

“The Parting” depicts the choice Dodge faced in leaving her lover John Reed, between giving herself completely to him or choosing independence. Ultimately, Dodge does part from Reed, but “The Parting” succeeds in fully unpacking the emotions of Bohemian women who wanted to be loved but came to recognize how sexism and the patriarchy prevented them from being able to fully “know” the men in their lives. Though Dodge’s parting can be seen as a brave act of assertion of autonomy, it should still be recognized that Dodge felt depression and loneliness as a result of coming to understand the influence of gender in loving relationships. “The Parting” fully explores the grief felt by Bohemian women. The short story also explains how early 20th century American culture placed the blame for relationship disagreements on women. Women were essentially victim blamed for the oppression their male partners inflicted upon them and their relationships. Rudnick agrees and writes about “The Parting” that “Mabel’s fictionalization of her own plight revealed her understanding of the dynamics of passivity, punishment, and guilt that drove her to destroy the relationship she had come to depend on for her own survival” (2796). Natural symbolism is used to symbolize a lack of sexual fulfillment felt by women who chose independence over the oppression of their male partners. Nature symbolism also conveys the struggle of finding fulfillment in the self in the wake of a romantic relationship. Dodge uses the brief instances of dialogue to illustrate how communication within relationships was directed by men. Through the description of the scene at the carnival, Dodge also uses dialogue to portray men’s lack of awareness of their privilege in how the male’s time away from his wife is a fantastical romp and her time is solemn and lonely.

“The Parting” picks up where Dodge’s previous story, “The Quarrel,” left off. “The Quarrel” featured a couple who was having disagreements. The story focused mostly on displaying the inequality of a Bohemian “open” relationship, where the man enjoyed agency yet still desired his wife to live to please him. Equally, the Bohemian man desired his wife to be intellectual and muse-like while still also “belonging” solely to him. “The Parting” displays the ending of this relationship. Both stories clearly draw on Dodge’s experience in her relationship with John Reed, which ended at the same time as the publication of “The Parting.” Dodge expressed the same struggles as was depicted in the relationship in her two stories features. The woman in the piece strives to maintain independence while also wanting to be desired, much like how Dodge wanted John Reed to desire her but also came to understand that with him she had little control over her own destiny.

“The Parting” comes in the same issue of The Masses in which Dodge publishes the poem “Two Contentments.” Interestingly, Dodge publishes “Two Contentments” under her name and leaves “The Parting” anonymous (like “The Quarrel,” which was also published anonymously). Both “The Quarrel” and “The Parting” may have been published anonymously because of the personal feelings expressed that Dodge did not want attributed to her. Dodge worked to create a powerful and sturdy image of herself, and her relationship with Reed was everything but stable and sturdy. In fact, Rudnick characterizes their relationship as the “greatest happiness and most intense misery she [Dodge] had ever known” (1845). In a time where mental illness and emotions were seldom addressed, Dodge’s short stories appear to be a space where she was able to express more fully the pain she felt after leaving Reed. Dodge attempted suicide in the wake of their break up, and it is something she never writes about in her memoirs. Dodge’s short stories being published anonymously also conveys the distance Dodge wanted to put between herself and her depression and distressed emotions. Dodge likely feared being categorized as another “emotional woman.”

The male character in “The Parting” clearly portrays how Bohemian men did not give validity to female emotion. The man tells his wife, “It will be better when I come back,” and continues, “You will see dearest. You need a rest from me,” speaking to her as if she is a child (Dodge 8). She actually doesn’t even speak throughout the piece, which conveys how the female in the relationship tended to feel as though they did not have the open space to voice their concerns or opinions. Dodge illustrates how the man clearly does not know the true nature of his wife. He talks to her condescendingly and notes how,“For himself he felt no uncertainty in his feeling for her except at those times when she became unlike herself; then he felt no love for her. He agreed cheerfully to go away for a time and work” (Dodge 8). The man views the woman as submissive and perpetually happy. He concludes that when there is discord that she is merely “unlike” herself. This thought conveys how men both didn’t understand the inequality in the relationship as well as how they did not give validity to women’s emotional struggles.

Dodge’s tale enters into an almost mystical path through nature which is not characteristic of Dodge’s normally very concrete and realistic writing. “The Parting” is the closest Dodge gets toward somewhat mythical or magical tones. Dodge portrays an element of spirituality through the woman and the hike in nature. The woman embarks on this walk to escape the depression she feels surrounds her in the home. Dodge’s character clearly suffers from depression like she herself did. The woman “found everything had taken on a pallid and sickly hue” (Dodge 8). This conveys how even objects and people who brought the character joy no longer give her fulfillment. She sets off initially “with a friend,” though she returns home alone (Dodge 9). Nature reflects the reality of the loneliness of independence felt by Bohemian women. Dodge expresses the degradation of the decision to be without a partner as she writes how the woman character “plunged through a thicket that seemed a dull and endless growth of little mean natural things without dignity or nobility” (8). Dodge never depicts herself as anything other than stalwart and strong, so this story is unique in that she conveys these more negative emotions she feels about the plight of women and relationships. Dodge even expresses the desire for death. Her woman character feels detached from reality in trying to find definition for life in herself separated from the man she had placed so much of her self-worth in. Dodge writes of the aimless emotions after the woman faces the reality of independence and describes how “Anemic images floated by her [The woman] aimless and drifting" (9).

In the last lines of dialogue from the man, Dodge illustrates how men were obvious to the struggles women faced. He fully discloses his infidelity and privilege as he says,
“I stopped off, dearest, and went into that funny place—the Palisade Coney Island, you should see those people—those girls! I looked at them for a long time, first sexually, then aesthetically. It’s queer how differently I can see things—the same things. Both ways give me pleasure… Then for a long time—an hour I guess—I watched a man hitting at a mark with balls! He won every time. Dearest—he was piling up all sorts of prizes he won—tea set after tea set—quite good ones,” (Dodge 9).
By calling her “dearest” he again speaks to her as if she’s a child. He identifies how he can choose to view women how he pleases, making them objects “Sexually” or “aesthetically”. Dodge also symbolizes male privilege in this dialogue through the image of how the man at the fair “won every time.” Dodge uses this comparison of gender dynamics to a carnival game to convey how men could view life as a game and have fun while women were faced to confront a crueler reality. While the man was off at Coney Island, the woman was crawling in some thicket alone.

In the end Dodge’s character, like Dodge herself, chooses uncertainly over accepting oppression and inequality. Despite the darkness the woman undergoes the short story still concludes with hope for the future and reflects how Dodge was able to move on from Reed and forge ahead in her life. The woman “waited for a new day to break,” which symbolizes waiting for a new age when equality can allow women and men to truly know each other and love each other (8).

Dodge, Mabel. “The Parting.” The Masses. Oct. 1916: 8-9. Print.

Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Location 1845-2104). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Tamiment Library New York University

Publisher

The Masses

Date

October 1916

Rights

Tamiment Library

Format

Newspaper

Language

English

Type

Short Story

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

"The Parting"

Anonymous

They had decided to leave each other for a time.
After many months of strain between them some thing had broken in her and she knew they must have a rest from each other.
Her unsatisfied spirit had pressed forward until it had wrenched itself loose from her reason and found release down the dark alleys of instinct where it had plunged blind and unguided.
He had told her one more foolish obvious lie, covering and hiding away from her the unkinw nature and processes of him which she felt would be the source of fulfillment to her if she could only teach them and tap them. After the long unsuccessful pursuit of his spirit she had a sudden complete sense of her frustration.
She was mad with jealously because her spirit had never been satisfied. She had never been able to ascertain him, and the intellectualized longing of her heart to know him as posses him and be saved by him turned into a flood of hatred that flowed into every nerve and muscle, galvanizing her into a passionate effort to be saved from him.
She had struck out blindly at him with all her strength without knowing what she was doing. Her consciousness rushed out from her upon him in a storm of blows as though to thrust him out of existence.
As soon as she came to herself she was frightened at what had happened. She told him she must go away and give her a chance to get hold of herself again. She must have a rest from the riddle of his uncertain quality. She longed for peace to come to her.
He agreed that it was necessary to go for her sake. For himself he felt no uncertainty in his feeling for her except at those times when she became unlike herself; then he felt no love for her. He agreed cheerfully to go away for a time and work.
She tried to pierce the motives of his acquiescence. She analyzed his reasons for taking with him the clothes that he took and the orders that he gave for putting away what he left behind. She felt unable to understand how he felt, what went on in him, and she suspected that he tried to give her the answers that she wanted and not the true ones. How should she ever know the true answers to his nature and his acts? She felt a darkness surrounding him and his ways and she wondered if it really was his darkness or the limitation of her own light. She felt a mystery about him that seemed evil, yet she wondered whether the sense that it was evil did not come from herself. She doubted herself as well as him.
When he came to say goodbye the pain of it was awful to her. She felt she was giving up surrendering her life. Yet she did not ask him to stay for fear of giving up her reason.
His tears flowed with hers. He tried to comfort her.
“It will be better when I come back,” he said, “You will see dearest. You need a rest from me.”
Her heart seemed to turn to mud.
She knew if he went she would not being it over again. She would not have him back unless she could know him; and she could not get to know him when he was away anymore than when they were together.
All of the afternoon of the day that he went the hours dragged themselves across her. She lay and could not move under the weight of the day. Towards night, when she got up and went downstairs to see people again, she found everything had taken on a pallid and sickly hue. All the accustomed things had a dead look. The furniture , and all the inanimate familiar objects were like symbols that had lost their meaning. And the people about her appeared diminished and ineffective. She felt insulated from them—out of contact—neutralized. Their voice sounded still more dead in her ears, and her own voice sounded still more dead.
She cast around her in the nearby places and afar into the world for a spot that carried life in its remembrance, but the whole earth was like a burnt ember to her imagination. A place of death peopled with shades. She longed for true death—for appeasement—cessation.
As evening wore on and she sat listlessly with the others, all of her seemed to her to stream out in invisible antenna seeking contact and finding none.
She wondered where he was—what he was thinking and what look was upon his face. She tried to penetrate the empty space between them and reach him—to know what he was like and what he was feeling. She did not wish him back for fear of the exasperation of his unsatisfactory presence, nor did she long to him for fear of the imperfect meeting.
There was no goal of aspiration for desire—no direction for her longing to take. She had become a storm center of unrelated emotion. Her soul was a deep whirlpool. She felt she was going mad…
In desperation she turned to movement of some kind and she offered to walk home across the hills with a friend. She stormed across the hill and each beat of her heart was a hammer of pain, reluctant to fall. The perspiration streamed from her face and body, the blood pounded though her arteries as she forced herself along and the whole of herself seemed a terrible burden that she carried for no reason and to no place. Coming back alone, she got lost in the darkness.
She plunged through a thicket that seemed a dull and endless growth of little mean natural things with out dignity or nobility. Shrubs—grasses—stones—a mere confusion of small and horrible claws stretching out to pull her. Her intrepidity was still unused. The spitefulness of nature could not make her battle with it. Her heel was torn from her shoe and slipping on her skirt she came down knocking her forehead against a tree trunk. The pain and anger she felt were not enough to assuage her.
The fireflies staggered on all sides of her—lost—without direction. All nature seemed a welter of stupid instinct without goal. I nall the night there was no sign that nature held out any hope.
She wondered where he was and if he suffered as she did. She longed for him to suffer that her suffering might become valid. Unless he too knew the agony of separation her suffering was not authentic. She did not know why this seemed true.
Again she longed for death. As she had once longed for possession of his spirit, now she longed for annihilation. But she knew that annihilation was not for her. In the night in bed she lay waiting. Unable to think—phrases of half-thoughts persisted—beating their way through her consciousness—meaningless to her –carrying no vitality. Anemic images floated by her aimless and drifting.
The day came and went, dragging her down with it. It seemed to her that it was a degradation to suffer as she did. She felt a sense of shame and inferiority at the dullness of her being to all things outside of her—at her unresponsiveness to life. Then she felt most truly lost—knowing there was no dignity in her pain and that she unable to save herself from it.
At the end of that day she sank lower in her own estimation. That was when she admitted to herself that it was probably not on account of him that she was going through such agony. She remembered that she had gone through similar severances and at this remembrance she knew that she might not be at her ultimate agony.
At this point she turned her revolt back against herself. He became exonerated. She was the sulpable one, carrying darkness about her evil in her hidden nature.
She waited for the next morning to recall him. She told herself the he might as well return. She felt that she could love him better since she found that fault of pain to lie hidden in herself—unrelated to him. She longed for the assuagement that would come from his presence, when he would be near her, exonerated by her. She longed to forgive—to ask forgiveness to take the blame.
But these thoughts did not hold. When he came back she became hard to him again.
Her pain remained undiminished until his coming and she had counted upon her forgiveness and understanding of him to alleviate it. But when she found him cheerful, contented and not very moved, she resisted all his efforts to be sweet to her. She saw that he was sorry for her overwrought nerves, but that he did not feel what she was feeling. And she hardened to him.
But he sat by her and stroked her hand and her hair. Gradually the tension in her relaxed and she felt the cessation of pain that she had known in imagination. Soon she was soothed utterly, her heart lightened. She listed dreamily to what he was telling her.
He was speaking of the terrible evening before.
He was telling her what he had been doing while she in the wood. “I stopped off, dearest, and went into that funny place—the Palisade Coney Island, you should see those people—those girls! I looked at them for a long time, first sexually, then aesthetically. It’s queer how differently I can see things—the same things. Both ways give me pleasure…
Then for a long time—an hour I guess—I watched a man hitting at a mark with balls! He won every time. Dearest—he was piling up all sorts of prizes he won—tea set after tea set—quite good ones. I felt so sorry for the poor Chinaman who had the booth. I was awfully interested watching them all.” He went on telling his adventures like a child.
There seemed no longer anything unknown or mysterious about him. She knew completely that her pain was unrelated to outer things. Then she felt that they were truly parted.
The unkown was still there appalling her, but it was deep in herself. He could not cause her any pain.
She shivered a little though the cloud of drugging magnetism from his fingers. It soothed her but it did not enhance her. It was like a drug too often received. She knew that momentary alleviation that she secured from his nearness would pass away again, leaving the craving for certainty perfection and knowledge. She felt lost once more. Lost in her own depths, the foundation unknown and irrecoverable.
Again she waited for another day to break. Still uncertain—weary and unfilled.

Original Format

Magazine

Files

masses066_lo.pdf

Citation

Mabel Dodge, “The Parting ,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed September 24, 2017, http://omeka.ursinus.edu/items/show/75.