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The Other Wife Analysis

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The Other Wife is a short story written by Sidonie Gabrielle Colette. Colette is credited for challenging rigid attitudes and assumptions about gender roles. “The Other Wife” is about a French aristocrat and his second wife has a brief encounter with his ex-wife in a restaurant. The story’s point of view is 3rd person omniscient. An analysis of how France 20th century gender roles influence the multiple personalities of a husband, wife, and ex-wife. Gender roles have played a major part in society. According to the book “The Psyche of Feminism” “A gender role is a theoretical construct in the social sciences that refers to a set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for a specific sex” (Pebbles 101). France’s society in the 20th century rooted the idea that women are subservient to men. It has only been in the past one hundred years that some women have started to have the same rights as men. Women have fought for rights that establish the same social, economic, and political status that men have. Colette addresses the issue of gender inequality in France in her short story “The Other Wife.” She mentions Alice’s hat. “A good catholic woman in France never walks around with her hair down or without a hat unless she is selling something”(Pebbles 222). Women are instructed to wear hats. Not to do so is to dishonor her head.

The man is considered the head of a woman. A man is placed in subordination to Christ who is his head. “The man is also the authority under Christ making the woman subordinated to the man and under his authority” (Pebbles 306). The dominance of the male over the female is displayed in the public restaurant. Colette establishes a complete feminine identity that goes against the traditional French definition of femininity. The ex-wife or the other woman has pale skin, lustrous hair and blue eyes. “Pale skin was prize because women with porcelain skin were valuable and considered more beautiful” (Hayes 110). Pale skin also represented wealth. “Those who were wealthy enough not to labor outdoors could show off their affluence by being pale”(Hayes 110). She also wears white. “White is an abnormal color for a French woman French woman to wear”(Pebbles 116). Her white attire represents all of her possibilities because white is a combination of all of the colors. She is going against what a good catholic woman does.

The ex-wife is staying at the hotel by herself. She is boldly lounging back smoking her cigarette relaxing. She is portraying manly characteristics. The first wife is confident and has a strong demeanor. Alice the current wife of Marc is naïve and submissive. Pebbles uses some bible quotes to discuss feminism. She used 1 Timothy 2:11”A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” Alice allows her controlling husband dictate what to eat and where to sit in the restaurant. Alice is describe as a blond lady with dusty skin, blue-green eyes, and heavily breasted. “The fashionable silhouette in the early 1900s was that of a confident woman with a full chest and curry hips”(Levi 194). A corset was used to achieve this look. Alice wears an all black outfit. Black is absent of all colors. The black shows limited possibilities in her current lifestyle. According to the narrator she has changeable eyes. Marc first mentioned that her eyes looked green against the blue sky.

The narrator describes her eyes as blue. Her eyes illustrate her future emotion of envy towards the ex-wife. Alice large mercy hat foreshadows something is going to happen. Mercury is the Greek god messenger of the Gods. Mercury is also in the thermometer, which tells the temperature. Its silvery color reflects everything. Alice says that she is not uncomfortable but her attitude and actions shows otherwise. “Alice fanned herself irritably, and cast brief glances at the woman in white” (Lim, Spencer 526).  Superficially considered, Alice’s situation should make her happy; she, after all, is the “new” wife and has, in a sense, triumphed over Marc’s “other” wife but she leave the restaurant perplexed. “She kept looking, with envy and curiosity, at the woman in white, this dissatisfied, this difficult, this superior…” (Lim, Spencer 527) Alice becomes a little obsessed with the other wife, because she, at last, is divested of the need to indulge a man, to be subservient to his wishes and whims. Alice has a feeling of jealousy towards the other wife’s accomplishment of setting herself free. Marc is described as a controlling gentleman.

The narrator states that he has a regular face, with thick hair with white strands here and there. He has short well cared for hands. Throughout the entire story we can see that Marc, the husband, tries to take control of the situation in the restaurant. He does this by tightening his grip on Alice’s, choosing where to sit, ordering their food, and commenting on Alice weight gain. “And you’ve put on weight since you’ve been traveling…. It’s nice up to a point, but only to a point!” (Lim, Spencer 525) The author devoted a lot of this short story to the food and eating. Marc ordering Alice’s food shows his authority. He does not order her food like a husband who just knows what his wife like. He displays his wealth by mentioning his chauffeur and by the way he ordered the food. “My chauffeur will be having lunch also, well be leaving again at two o’clock. Some cider? No, I don’t trust it… Dry champagne”(Lim, Spencer 525). Marc ‘s presence intimidates the waiter. The waiter was perspiring and overworked. Marc did not say hello to the waiter or acknowledge him. He only gives her two options Marc is superficially in control because Alice allows him to be.

Marc evens contradicts the narrator. “Gazed at the colorless midday sea, at the pearly white sky…”(Lim, Spencer 525). “ And the blue water makes your eyes look green”(Lim, Spencer 525) Marc is open with Alice and does not lie to her. He tells her that his first wife was in the restaurant sitting by the window. He also expresses his failure to satisfy his first wife, which led to their divorce. He is open with his wife and tells her that his ex-wife is sitting by the window. He shows how he is a gentleman by expressing this to Alice. Marc does not respect Alice. He also tells Alice that he was unable to satisfy his former wife. “I just didn’t know hot to make her happy, that’s all. I didn’t know how”(Lim, Spencer 526). To him a wife is a commodity. “Many very wealthy men have a frequent tendency to treat the women in their lives as their possessions” (Ladimer 79). Women should stay at home, take care of the kids, and makes sure the home looks nice. Marc wants a woman by his side to look pretty, and basically be another possession, another physical object. When he loses one he goes back to the market asks for a new wife that is less smart, preferably pale skin, but she has to have blue eyes.

The eyes are windows of the soul. The eyes are a metaphor for self-realization. The story is drama and the characters are realistically complex. The two wives are foil characters. The other wife is a silent character in this story, we only catch glimpses of her, but it is enough to realize the power she had left on the husband. Alice thinks this other woman is superior to her. The woman in white is called the other wife in the title instead of the ex-wife. This shows the connection this woman has on the couple. The last word superior reflects back over the whole story and indeed over the whole imagined life between Marc and this woman in white. There is a mystery about her and another mystery in the way one woman regards another woman who is connected with the same man. The two women share an unnoticeable bond.

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