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19 November 2008

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"Elizabeth" and "A Fine Old Firm"
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TadMack

Hah! Her apartment sounds like mine, especially the bit about appearing rumpled and frowsy and just wanting you to get the heck out so it could go back to sleep!

Patti

That's definitely my apartment. It takes forever to get it clean but when I wake up in the morning it's so disheveled and gloomy.

I think "missing something" is what the reader is supposed to feel for "A Fine Old Firm." I feel like the mother and daughter were there and were fairly content, but then a woman comes in telling them things about their son/brother that they never knew. I'm sure they were thinking that exact thought. It's what made it so awkward to read.

gailg

I thought "Elizabeth" was another real short story, though in this one the protagonist appears to have changed but hasn't. She has pinned her future on pathetic Robbie for eleven years. She finally realizes her life, her business, her relationship is going nowhere. What does she do to make a change? She seeks out another man to tie herself to. This story might be some kind of feminist gem.

Though Jackson is known as being a writer of the creepy and odd, I'm finding many, many of these short stories to be about women's experience. And the women's experiences are extremely claustraphobic, as Leila described Elizabeth's apartment. All these women live very narrow lives. Notice how many of them are referred to as Mrs. Something or Another or Miss Something or Another. They are defined in terms of their relationships--or lack thereof--with men. How often do we see Mrs. or Mr. or Miss or even Ms. used these days the way Jackson uses those honorifics? I don't know if she's doing that to make some kind of feminist statement. She died in 1965, which is probably a little early for 60s/70s feminist involvement. Her use of those titles, her portrayal of women, may simply be an expression of what she saw going on around her or how she felt about the society of her time. What a nightmare.

James Harris is all over the place in these stories! I want to get me a name and use it over and over again in my writing. I'm loving that.

My wild guess about "A Fine Old Firm" is that it's a story about anti-Semiticism or at least about Jewish/gentile tension. Couldn't Friedman be a Jewish name? Thus, the Jewish mother has sought out the mom of her own son's friend. She hopes to offer her son's friend a position at the law firm at which her husband is a partner. But Mrs. Concord makes clear that they already have a connection with a "fine old firm." Meaning a WASP firm.

Notice that Mrs. Friedman's husband is an actual partner in a law firm while Mrs. Concord's husband's grandfather was the partner in the fine old firm that they're hopiing young Charlie Concord will join. In a world where a woman's status is tied to her husband's, Mrs. Friedman should have had more status than Mrs. Concord because Mrs. Friedman's husband was an actual law partner while we don't know what Mrs. Concord's husband does, just that his oldest friend is a law partner, as was his grandfather. He probably isn't a lawyer, himself, or wouldn't his son come home from the service and gone into business with him? The fact that Mrs. Concord and her daughter are doing the mending at the beginning of the story may be a tip off that their financial status isn't top notch.

I'm sorry. I've nearly written an essay here.

Heidi

I thought so too, Gail, that anti-semitism was going on, but it took until the third look. Also, the son was living a life inaccessible to the mother, with news coming from a stranger rather than to her.

Leila

I agree about the claustrophobia (obviously), and not just the physical -- it's emotional and psychological, and it seems like it's partially created by the society that the women live in and partially created by the women themselves, like they're acting and living in a way that they think other people want them to act and live. I thought "Flower Garden" especially showed the pressure of other people, but a lot of the others have seemed to be about people who just can't get out of their own way.

Re: "Fine Old Firm": Gail and Heidi, yeah. I wondered if there was anti-semitism going on while I was reading it, but then I couldn't find anything really concrete to back up my suspicion. That's a great point, Gail, about the partner status of Mr. Friedman vs. the probable financial status of the Concords.

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