The Country Husband by John Cheever
Answer: In a story, there is always a destabilizer that dislodges the protagonist from his or her preset equilibrium. In this case, we can infer from the author’s description of “the Weed’s Dutch Colonial Home” (paragraph 5) that Francis Weed has led a tranquil, regular, and domesticated life with his wife and children prior to the unfolding of the story. However, at the very beginning of the narration, a plane crash completely shakes up Francis Weed’s routine the day he goes back from Minneapolis. Though Francis survives the accident and manages to come back to the norms of his life, the horror of the plane crash changes his life. So here, the plane crash is the destabilizer in the following ways: First, the family’s indifferent response to the horror Francis has endured is noteworthy.
From the story, it becomes apparent that Julia Weed and her children are too wrapped up in the trivial details of their family life to notice the subtle changes in Francis’ mood when he comes home, exhausted and frightened. Paragraph 6, 7 and 8 all serve to illustrate how the family dinner comes to be a battleground for a bunch of rattling kids. Francis, having no opportunity to tell the family about his extraordinary experience, finds no solace in this rambunctiousness. His wife, Julia, also fails to appreciate the amount of stress and bad luck he suffered. So, it is natural for Francis to become disillusioned with his family, and the proverbial healing power it claims to have.
To seek understanding and diversion, he turns to the alluring Anne Murchison and is wildly in love with her. Second, the tempestuous weather during the flight and the whirlwind emergency of the accident awakens Francis’ hidden memory and prompts him to think over his present situation. The turbulence of the flight much resembles that of the war. So no wonder that Francis reacts strongly both to the war he participates in and the recent plane crash. We can affirm this by looking at Francis’ recollection of the girl’s public chastisement. Notice how “the people in the Farquarson’s living room seemed united in their tacit claim that there had been no past, no war—” (paragraph 14); again, people are indifferent to the victim, this time not Francis but the girl.
Furthermore, “the atmosphere of Shady Hill made the memory unseemly and impolite” (paragraph 14), which alarms Francis since the very community he lives in leaves no room for his past, ignores him as a human being, and gives him no support. Even the mundane monotony of his neighborhood: the old Mr. Nixon, the dogs and cats, and on and on and on, makes him sick at heart. This sudden revelation makes him realize, painfully, that he needs to go else where for fresh air. It is with the mindset of escapism and strong dissatisfaction that Francis Weed encounters Anne Murchison. The subsequent plot all originates from his infatuation with her.
To him, she seems to be perfection incarnate, the very embodiment of his hopes and love, as expressed in paragraph 15. After his attempts at driving her home and giving her a gift are thwarted, he is plunged into a deep depression. His frustration is apparent: in paragraph 35, he is rude to Mrs. Wrightson, a prominent member of his social circles, and consequently displeases his wife and endangers the social position of his family; in paragraph 133, he vilifies the character of Anne’s lover, Clayton, who is alike deeply dissatisfied with the Shady Hill community. Alienated from his wife and family, he behaves like a desperate social outcast, defies propriety, and languishes from unrequited love. All those emotions and actions stem from the plane crash, the memory it awakens, and people’s reaction to it.
In a word, the accident at the beginning of the story serves as the starting point and the destabilizer. The plane crash not only disturbs his peace of mind temporarily, but, more significantly, forces him to look at his life from a new perspective; also, it triggers Francis’ disillusionment as he sees the indifferent attitude of those he loves. This attitude is also important because it belies the true cause of the conflict, and Francis’ response to it paves way for further action.