Much early twentieth century literature examines on the trials and tribulations of male and female relationships. Early relationships were traditional, meaning that the male had an upper hand in the relationship and were evidently in a position of power. However, both Edith Wharton and Robert Service present characters that challenge these societal assumptions of male and female relationships. Both characters, Alice and Lou are women of power seeking vengeance from their stereotypical image and break free from the mold society has carved for women of the twentieth century. THESIS??? Manipulate men to gain power??? (lou for $$ and Alice to better herself in society)
Edith Wharton explores the idea of feminism and the problems that twentieth century women face in society. Focusing forth most on their aspirations and strong character that allows them to break through traditional restrictions and become an individual in society - not a possession of their male counterparts (McDowell, 522). Feminism is a common theme in much of Wharton’s works and is exceedingly evident in Edith Wharton’s “The Other Two”. Although it seems as though the main focus lies on the twisted relationships of male characters, it is Alice who is arguably the most dynamic and captivating character presented. Much of the attention is directed to the past and present marriages of Alice Waythorn. Her first marriage was to Mr. Haskett; the two had a child together, yet their marriage ended in an untimely divorce. Alice later married Mr. Varick, a marriage that also ended in divorce and she is presently wedded to Mr. Waythorn. The knowledge of her multiple marriages gives further insight into her character. First of all, the daring fact that she has been married three times is something that is completely out of character for an early twentieth century women, and in many cases is unacceptable (McDowell, 527). Although Wharton attempts to paint the picture of traditional societal woman, Alice’s marriage history is the first indication that Alice is not your conventional housewife.
In a society where it is supposed that women never exist a part from a man, and an alliance with a man, who holds the power in a relationship, is imperative for a women (McDowell, 524), Alice subtly shatters this societal mold. Further examining her character allows us to see a potential shift in power from the once dominant male figure to the increasingly prosperous female. She did not accept the notion of male superiority. Granted, Wharton does present weak male characters such as Mr. Waythorn. “Waythron felt that his exploration of Haskett was like groping about with a dark-lantern in his wives past (Wharton, 1758), It is Alice’s previous relationships that leave Mr. Waythorn feeling insecure with his current relationship. As Alice’s character continues to grow she increasingly destroys the authoritative power (McDowell, 530) Mr. Waythorn once had. Margaret B. McDowell furthers this notion by touching on the fact that Alice marries into a relationship with the absence love or commitment (524). This allows us, the reader, to question her intentions towards marriage.
Alice was known to be a woman of many relationships, “as easy as an old shoe, a shoe too many feet have worn” (Wharton, 1760). However, as mentioned previously, her marriages lacked love and commitment, one might question what exactly her motive was towards marriage. Margaret McDowell shares the idea that Alice marries to grow rich at the expense of men (528). This explains her multiple marriages, “Alice took her change in husbands as a change in the weather” (Wharton, 1760). Marriages were meaningless to her and her vows were insincere. She used matrimony as a stepping-stone to better herself in society. She became powerful, yet destructive to the men in her life; manipulating them into marriage, then filed for divorce, when the opportunity arose to better herself in another marriage. Although her tactics were devious, she was still able to continuously liberate her self even in a patriarchal setting (McDowell, 524). With this being said, one can conclude that Alice was a social climber; she used men and marriage as an attempt to further herself to the top of the New York society. She gained a sense of power in a time of universal male dominance. In a sense she can be referred to as a gold-digger, benefiting herself at the expense of others. However the power she has is undeniable, she has Mr. Varick, Mr. Haskett and of course Mr. Waythorn were at one point or another, under her full control. Although Wharton doesn’t able us to see where Alice’s climb takes her, one might imagine that she remained powerful and passed her aspirations on to other twentieth century women.
A Character that shares the same aspirations as Alice is Lou, from Robert Services “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”. Set around the Klondike gold rush of 1898, Robert Service focuses on the society during the Yukon Territory during the gold rush. Francis Blackhouse referred to it as the “Great Stampede of 1898” (73). Thousands of people fled to the Klondike, in hopes of financially bettering themselves. Although the majority of those who migrated in search of fortune were men, there were also portion women who went with the same intentions in mind. The Yukon instantly became a “boom town” there was wide array of jobs available, not only for men, but for women as well (Blackhouse, 73). Although there were domesticated jobs such as baking, cleaning and sewing, a vast majority of women congregated into the entertainment industry. The male to female ratio was staggering, and many of these men left their wives and families to work in the mines, thus, the entertainment industry was in high demand (Blackhouse, 73). A number of women sought work at saloon dance halls in which they prostituted themselves out off to the mining men. One of these women was “A lady named Lou”.
Saloon women, Like Lou, were dressed provocatively; “In voluminous bloomers, long skirts, inappropriate boots and constricting corsets” (Blackhouse, 73). Their attire allowed them to further seduce their male acquaintances. Like Alice, one might also question Lou’s intentions. Francis Black proposed the idea that many women came to the Yukon in hopes of potentially finding a wealthy male companion (73). Like Alice, Lou also used men to further herself. Both characters were great manipulators. Alice manipulates men into marriage to further herself socially and Lou manipulates men for their fortunes.
Lou was a woman of many “lovers” on of them being Dan McGrew, “Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew, And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou” (Service, ll.3-4). It is obvious that Dan McGrew had some emotional tie with Lou but it is also evident that Lou’s love is not sincere, “…Her love was a devil’s lie” (Service l.37). As the poem progresses it quickly becomes evident that Lou is a hustler. When the stranger comes into the Saloon and buys drinks for the house, Lou is immediately fixated on him, assuming his pockets are heavy with gold, “Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he’d do, And I turned my head – and there watching his was the lady known as Lou” (Service ll.15-16). Tempers between the two male characters began to flare in jealously over Lou and “…Two guns blazed in the dark” (Service, l.51). The power that Lou had over these two men is undeniable; However, Like Wharton, Robert Service also presents weak male characters. Both Dangerous Dan McGrew and the stranger, presumed to be gold miners, are especially vulnerable to Lou’s seductions. Resulting in Lou’s manipulation they both fall to their deaths because of their infatuation with her.
Lou solidifies her insincerities as well as her motives at the end of the poem. “While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.” (Service, l.54), Lou runs to the man in sorrow as if they have emotional ties. “The woman that kissed him and – pinched his poke – was the lady that’s known as Lou” (Service, l.58), as she “pinched his poke” one can imagine that she mischievously reached into the strangers pocket and snatched his fortune of gold, This ending confirms that Lou is indeed a gold digger and only engaged in relationships with these men for their money.