Isolation and depression are constant throughout “As For Me and My House not only in the storyline, but in character development as well. Sinclair Ross creates believable characters by using the climate and weather as a way to emphasize their feelings and emotions. Depression and isolation are the obvious themes that emerge but through out the story a want for more is evident. It is not merely a desire for material possessions but more the desire for an emotional void to be filled. Mrs. Bentley displays strong feelings of the need for material belongings but it is only a mask to hide the love that is lacking in her life. Through the material things she believes she can close the gap between her and her husband. Ross uses the weather and climate to construct characters that his audience can relate to.
Both Mr. And Mrs. Bentley have the same characteristics, but the ways in which they are displayed differ. The Bentleys live on the parries where the climate is very dry, and Ross uses the dryness of the land to accentuate what is found in them. They are comparable because the dry weather affects many parts of daily life, and their dryness is a hindrance to each other’s lives. When the weather is dry it affects all parts of life, and it affects the moral of all involved. At church Mrs. Bentley notices that the people are not listening to what the preacher is saying but rather: ” they were listening to the wind”, when they listened it was as “if they were trying to read the sky”(58). The dryness that is felt in the weather is only a reflection of what Mrs. Bentley feels on the inside. Physically she is dry because she is unable to have children. This puts a damper on her spirit because she thinks that if she could have her husbands’ baby he would love her and give her the respect that she needs and deserves.
She believes that in time she could convince herself that her husbands and Judith’s baby would be hers: “that in time his son would become my son too”(214). Her dryness can also be perceived in the way she does not see herself as important. She believes that without Philip she is nothing: “if I lost Philip what would there be ahead of me?”(212). Her failure to see the worth that she possesses brings out the dryness because she cannot fathom that she can accomplish anything on her own. Mr. Bentleys’ entire character can be seen as dry, and even the simplest parts of him are dry. His actions towards everybody, especially his wife, are cold and hurtful, and he does not allow anybody the chance to get close to him. The way in which he is grown is like that of a cactus, with out much care and thrives in a dry environment.
He has thorns to keep anybody from getting close to him, and he does not needs little love to survive. He withdraws from his wife at every chance he gets especially when they are at home alone. He uses his study as a shelter, and the door as a barricade so he does not have to deal with anything but himself. When Mrs. Bentley tries to make him open his door and allow her to be a part of his life he shuns her: “‘You’d be better with the door open, getting a little breeze’ I ventured, but he sipped his coffee and said ‘I like it shut'”(63). He is dry in the way he talks to the people, and this makes it hard to relate to him. The way he presents his sermons on Sunday mornings have no emotions put in them they are only words coming out since he has no interest in what he is doing.
The relationship that the Bentleys have is extremely dry and no matter how hard Mrs. Bentley tries there is nothing she can do to make it better. From the time the couple arrives in Horizon the strain on their marriage is obvious, so Mrs. Bentley is always trying to make Philip as happy as possible. When there is extra money she does not spend it on herself or even on the things that the house needs but instead she spends it on paints for Philip: “ten dollars toward the horse – our little budget will have to stand it one way or another anyway, so I might as well start out with a flourish of magnanimity – and the other fifteen will go to paints”(106). She hopes that if Philip had something to paint with again he would get out of the mood that he has been in for so long.
The Bentley face isolation in a number of ways. They are isolated because they live on the prairies where they land is so vast, and they feel that they do not fit in anywhere. They keep moving from town to town with no real difference being made in the their lives: “his sermons become tedious, he hasn’t the interest of the community at heart, I turn out to be a snob and trouble maker. Eventually they make it clear to us. We crate our furniture again and go”(14). From their past experiences they do not see a point in trying to make themselves liked by the community because in the end nobody cares about them.
Mrs. Bentley is isolated because she does not fit in with the community members. The people are pretending to be something they are not and they have to put up false fronts as a shield to their true selves. This not only isolates Mrs. Bentley from others but from her self because she feels the need to “erect a false front of [her] own”(13). When she pretends to be something she is not, even if it is to protect her self, it only brings her further away from her true self. Even though they face isolation from others around them it does not bring them closer together. Although they have been married for twelve years they are still like strangers to each other. In Mrs. Bentleys eyes it is all her fault that her and her husband are not close to each other, and she is constantly trying to make herself be an important part in Philips life. At times she feels that she is getting closer to him, but at other times she feels that everything she has done has been done in vain, “sometimes I feel it a kind of triumph, the way I won myself in his life despite him; but other times I see his eyes frustrated, slipping past me, a spent, disillusioned stillness in them, and I’m not so sure”(44).
Mrs. Bentley cannot figure out whom she is if she feels that her husband does not know her and what she stands for. The only thing that she wants is for her husband to be able to share their lives together, and she wants her joys to make him happy as well. Mrs. Bentley does not allow the isolation to conquer her life like it does her husband. The isolation that Philip feels has been with him since he was a boy, and he treated his unwed mother similarly to the way he treats his wife: “he recoiled from her with a sense of grievance and contempt”(40). From the beginning of his life he always thought there was something better for him that was just out of reach, and when he was a boy it was his father whom he idolized, “his father all this time belonged to the escape world of his imagination, and his mother to the drab”(41).
Unlike his wife it is his choice to be alone. He pretends that he does not need the affection that she does, but he is unwilling to give her what she wants and needs. He cuts himself off from the world by retreating to his art, and through his art he is able to further isolate everybody else by not sharing it. When his wife tries to share his work he becomes angry and even more distant from her, he turns the situation against her: “I don’t speak well enough for myself. That’s right isn’t it? You have to put a word in for me – impress them – let them see that your small town preacher husband has more to him than they can see on the surface”(117). Through his selfishness and insecurities he isolates himself in a way that nobody can reach him.
Ross creates drastic seasons making it extremely cold in the winter and when it is dry out it is incredibly dry. Mrs. Bentley shows how drastic she can be when she is trying to save one thousand dollars; every thought is spent thinking about it. She is determined to save the money not only to get out of town, but to save her relationship with her husband as well. She realizes that the ‘Horizons’ that they have been living in have destroyed the good man that lies beneath the preacher that she sees everyday. If they could only get out of the town and the life that they are leading the true Philip would emerge, the Philip who is free: “It makes the thousand dollars important again. If he can draw like that when he’s all shriveled up inside with the guilt of his hypocrisy, what won’t he do when he’s free of it as, able to respect himself again”(183).
During the hard times of cold or drought there is relief to free them from their pain temporarily. When it finally rains after months of with out it, it does not just rains but rather it storms. They had wanted rain for so long, but when it finally comes it is not what they thought it was going to be: “the eaves already flooding over. We stood in the door way with some of the splashes on our faces”(155). The relief that the rain does not last long, and like the brief relief of the rain, Ross uses secondary characters to relieve the Bentleys of their pain. Steve comes into their lives and helps release some of the strain on their marriage, but like the rain he brings more than originally thought with him.
At first it seemed like he would bridge the gap between them, but during his stay he ends up separating them even more. Philip has longed for a child of his own, but he turns Steve into a competition between him and his wife. This in turns makes Mrs. Bentley feel awful about herself when Steve would rather be with her: “It makes me feel a little uneasy, the way we get along so well together. I have a guilty feeling that our companionship is rapidly becoming a conspiracy”(95). Mrs. Bentley believes that change would be good for their relationship, but in reality it has done more harm than good.
With the incorporation of the weather and climate to character development the characters become more realistic. Ross is able to create characters that are believable when he presents their personalities similar to the setting he is using. Through the use of isolation the reader has more empathy towards the family and the hardships that they have faced. Not only does the theme of depression become vivid because of the Bentleys, but also because the time in which it is set is during the depression. The yearning that is had for material things is typical of the time, but for the Bentleys it means much more. The lack of concrete possessions is amplified by the lack of emotional wealth. The well written novel enables the reader to have sympathy towards all characters involved in this work.
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Topic: “As For Me and My House” by Sinclair Ross
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