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‘Birthday Party’ by Katharine Brush

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When the idea of a birthday party comes to mind, it usually associates feelings of a joyous and lavish celebration shared with family and close friends. Contrasting toward that idea, Katharine Brush in “Birthday Party” portrays how joyless a marriage can be when the two companions are bound to the stereotypical notions of how their relationship should be like. Through simple syntax, diction, and ironic examples, Brush reveals a tone of how miserable relationships can be in an inevitable marriage. The title in itself has connotations of a celebratory happiness which is quickly dismissed in the first line. Brush describes the couple “in their late thirties” while they appear “unmistakably married,” which automatically stereotypes them as a bland couple seen in the post World War I era. By placing them in a “little narrow restaurant” it categories this couple as perhaps being narrow minded because of how bland the author makes them seem. When Brush briefly describes their appearances she fails to put much importance on what they look like. Rather, she really only mentions the man’s “self- satisfied face” indicating that he feels confident about himself regardless of how others might perceive him to be.

Thus, it also establishes how men on this time were the bread-winners and inevitably the man of the house. In accordance to the blandness of her husband, the wife is described as “fadingly pretty” which suggests that whatever beauty she had when she was young is no longer apparent which leads the reader to believe that she was never really pretty in the first place: just suitable enough for her husband. When Bush capitalizes “Occasion” she sarcastically emphasizes that the wife’s “little surprise” is unnecessary and inappropriate. By calling it “little,” she also demeans the wife’s attempt at surprising her husband. As the description of what follows develops, Brush brings in facets of irony to her story to further enhance the diction and syntax she uses. The “one pink candle” immediately described in the first line of the second paragraph is representative of their romantic relationship: dull and timid. Rather than a passionate flame ignited by endless amounts of love and care, Brush ironically characterizes their relationship as faint and predictable. With the idea of the wife’s “little surprise” in mind, the “violin-and-piano orchestra” the wife hired clearly over dramatizes the actual situation.

As a result, it ironically reduces the impressiveness that comes along with having a band present. The “few people” that are present attempt to help with “a pattering of applause,” which fails to add to the excitement of the surprise and places emphasis on the feeble and almost desperate applause, resulting in the husband’s “hotly embarrass[ment]” and “indignant” feelings at his wife for embarrassing him. As the story wraps up in the final paragraph, Brush clearly states the hatred she feels towards the husband’s response by portraying him as “unkind.” The italicization of the word “be” in the first sentence implies a certain amount of disgust towards the husband for crushing his wife’s happy spirit. When Brush follows with the words “he was like that,” she adds to the increasing anger of the husband’s meanness by making him seem like the one who has no regard towards his wife’s feelings.

As the man mutters “some punishing thing, quick and curt and unkind” to his wife, it establishes that the syntax is meant to criticize her for being nice and even remembering his birthday. He develops as a man who is too concerned for his reputation to take a moment to thank his wife and would prefer to blow off her nice gesture than acknowledge it. The ironic title Brush gives her short story reveals that the relationship the man and the woman share is no party whatsoever. It is merely one of many miserable episodes where the husband is indifferent to and resentful towards his wife for trying to do something thoughtful for him. As a result, Brush laments on the types of relationships at the time while commenting on the gradual death of romance.

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