An Ironic Exploitation Generally speaking, love is something that should not be played with. Most of the time, the weapon used to inflict harm will come back around to the harmer. Talented writers are aware of this concept known as karma. Author Edith Wharton, who experienced many complicated relationships, wrote many short stories with the subtle use of situational irony (“Roman Fever” 299). In the twentieth century short story “Roman Fever,” Edith Wharton employs symbolism and irony to ascertain that the most open of friends often realize that they do not know everything about each other.
The author of “Roman Fever,” Edith Wharton, depicts two upper class friends who spent some time in Rome as little girls. The two women, while sitting on a restaurant terrace in Rome, recall events that happened when they were younger. Mrs. Slade, hoping to hurt her friend, reveals the truth about what really happened one night and her true intentions. Mrs. Ansley, upset for a lost memory, retorts, surprising Mrs. Slade with her affair with Mr. Slade and her resulting pregnancy (Wharton 415-426). Through her application of symbolism Wharton signifies that even the closest friendship can conceal feelings of resentment and jealousy.
Color is effectively utilized to evoke a feeling of what is to come. Critic Alice Hall Petry asserts, “The complex relationship between Grace and knitting is evident in her first action in the story: ‘Half-guiltily she drew…a twist of crimson silk run through by two fine knitting needles’…The sensuality and forcefulness suggested by her knitting materials will help to render plausible…her capacity to stand up to the vicious taunts of Alida…” (313). The color crimson or red identifies with strong feelings such as love and passion. The needles impaling the silk suggest that Grace’s character has much more to reveal than what is on the surface.
Furthermore, Wharton compares their relationship to Rome; to explain, they were once friends but now their friendship is wearing down. Critic Lawrence Berkove relates, “The central action of the story takes place in the Colosseum…Alida and Grace continue the gladiatorial tradition. They have been relentless and scrupulous, using their bodies, their husbands, their daughters, and their lives of lies as weapons to score on each other” (312). Sadly, just as the ruins of Rome suggest, Alida and Grace’s friendship is crumbling. Their relationship had a good start but now, because of their rivalry, they have become relentless as they continue o battle each other. Edith Wharton’s vivid use of symbols explains that rivalries stem from one’s own disappointment of oneself. Through the utilization of irony, Wharton demonstrates that one often misjudges a person who is close. Grace Ansley’s real character is ironically shrouded. Critic Lawrence Berkove asserts, “…Grace, despite her name, is not entirely virtuous…[her] final retort to Alida is vengeful, and Grace has…a capacity and even a talent for malice” (311). Mrs. Ansley’s quiet and sweet appearance is only a facade; in reality, she is glad that she had an affair with Mr.
Slade and bore his child. In fact, this reveals that Mrs. Ansley has remorselessly lived a lie for most of her life. Moreover, Wharton highlights the situational irony that occurs in the climax of the story. Berkove states, “Grace does not know until Alida tells her that it was Alida and not Delphin who wrote the letter…Alida does not know until Grace tells her that Grace’s ‘illness’ was not malaria but pregnancy” (311). It is sardonic that Alida thinks she has won over Grace with the fact that she spent years married to Mr. Slade while Grace only saw him that one night.
But the hard truth is that Grace is far ahead of Alida in her conquest. Edith Wharton’s twisted depiction of these two characters reveal the futility of revenge and how it rebounds upon the avenger. In her twentieth century short story, Edith Wharton manipulates symbolism and irony to expose that under the appearance of friendship lies hidden the element of deception. Wharton’s exercise of irony unveils a worldwide message: if one concentrates on one thing too much, then one will not be able to fully see other things; hence, leaving room for deceit.
For instance, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A New Leaf,” the protagonist, Julia, wastes her time pursuing a man named Dick despite being told by her friend what his true personality is. Dick ends up having an affair with another woman and Julia then realizes that she only loved him for his looks. She could have avoided this mistake if she had taken her friend’s advice to stay away from Dick. Works Cited Berkove, Lawrence I. “‘Roman Fever’: A Mortal Malady” The CEA Critic 56 (Winter 1994): 56-60. Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Ira Mark Milne.
Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. 310-312. Print. Petry, Alice Hall. “A Twist of Crimson Silk: Edith Wharton’s ‘Roman Fever. ‘” Studies in Short Fiction 24 (Spring 1987): 163-166. Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. 312-315. Print. “Roman Fever – Author Biography. ” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. 299. Print. Wharton, Edith. “Roman Fever. ” American Short Stories. Ed. A. Walton Liz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. 415-426. Print.
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