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Tension And Violence Essay, Research Paper


The purpose of this essay is to study various kinds of tension and violence existing between men and women in short stories Her Table Spread by Elizabeth Bowen, Rope by Katherine Anne Porter and The Time of Death by Alice Munro. In my essay I will view the character features of the principal characters seen mainly from the point of view of the opposite sex. It’s my intention to show that the author’s sex influences the contents of the short stories. I,m also going to find out whether the violence is physical or mental.

Her Table spread by Elizabeth Bowen will be discussed in chapter one. I will prove that there is one very dominating woman who, perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally, uses violence against the principal male character of the story. I’m also going to show that the man, who creates most tension between a man and a woman and who in fact may have the leading role, is only mentioned by name, he is not in the story itself. The essay will also show that a romantic tension between the principal characters can only be experienced once in the whole story.

In chapter two Katharine Anne Porter’s short story Rope will be discussed and the fact will be proved that an insignificant incident can lead to very serious violence and various kinds of tensions between a married couple. In addition the tension comes into being through what is not said that is through repressed feelings. I will also speak about the fact how persons through mental violence come back to the ‘original’ situation between two lovers. To a situation where tension must be explained as love tension but where there are many things not spoken about and not settled.

Alice Munro’s story The Time of Death tells about very strong feelings of women and how men are perfectly disregarded. In this story men are underestimated and the violence is not pointed at an individual but men as a whole, as a sex.

1. Her Table Spread

Mr Alban is supposed to be the protagonist in the short story. He has been invited to the castle to some party because there is some tension between him and Miss Cuffe. That’s what the author lets the reader believe. In reality there is no tension and if there has been, it has been experienced by Miss Cuffe alone. This is clearly proved by the aggressive and hostile thoughts of Mr Alban right in the beginning of the story “Coming early for dinner, red satin dress cut low, she attacked the silence with loud laughter before he had spoken” (p. 73). Especially the last sentence and the word “attacked” reflects Mr Alban’s hostile attitude to Miss Cuffe. The situation itself is quite harmless but Mr Alban has a great dislike for Valeria coming into the room and he feels that Valeria is aggressive. Also in some other way Mr Alban seems to have some hatred or bitterness towards the situation and women. His words “her ox-eyes…” (p. 73) express deep contempt for Valeria. With these few word it’s quite obvious that valeria is a pretty woman but Mr Alban only wants to see something negative in her. The women’s uninterested, not so negative, attitude comes clearly up many times. The ladies are talking with each other when Mrs Treye all of a sudden asks Mr Alban “Have you been to Malta, Mr Alban” (p. 75)? With this loose sentence it’s clearly shown that Mr Alban is nothing compared to the officers in the destroyer. The same is repeated in a sentence “… Mr Alban, a Viennese waltz” (p. 77). Only in one short passage one can sense tension connected to love and romance. At the same time there seems to be some erotic tension as well. Valeria has gone out to wait Mr Garrett to arrive. By mistake she talks to Mr Alban as if she were talking to Mr Garrett. Despite Mr Alban’s explanation Valeria won’t believe that it is a question of a wrong person.

‘Hi!’ she croaked. Then: ‘You are there! I hear you!’

‘Miss Cuffe—’

‘How too bad you are! I never heard you rowing. I thought you were never coming—-’(p. 79)

In this situation Valeria is highly excited and she Carries Mr Alban with herself and makes him, for a moment at least, interested in her. A moment later the incident goes on:

Behind, through the windows, lamps spread great skirts of light, and Mars and Mercury, unable to contain themselves, stooped from their pedestals. (p. 80)

And a few lines later:

standing there in full manhood, he was for a moment not exiled. For the moment, without moving or speaking, he stood, in the dark, in a flame, as though all three said: ‘My darling…’ (p. 80)

Here, even though it’s a funny situation, one can sense a real thing between Mr Alban and the women. The real feeling is there, if only momentarily.

Mr Garrett, an officer, becomes however the principal character of the story. The greatest tension arises in Valeria’s mind between her and Mr Garrett. When she is outdoors waiting for Mr Garrett, in vain, she considers her own future. “When he and she were married…” (p. 77) shoes us clearly that Valeria regards as self-evident that Mr Garrett is interested in her as well. The whole story culminates in Valeria’s words “Mr Garret has landed”(p. 80). This sentence pulls together the women’s world of ideas and their disrespect towards the men at the party.

The only real tension flashes between Mr Rossiter and the parlourmaid: “…went back to the dining-room to talk to the parlourmaid:”(p. 76) Later when Mr Rossiter and Mr Alban talk about women the same shows again: “Mr Rossiter talked…and the parlourmaid in particular…” (p. 79).

2. Rope

In the beginning of the story an erotic tension is depicted when the husband comes back from buying coffee.

He told her that already she looked like a born country woman. His grey flannel shirt stuck to him, his heavy shoes were dusty. She assured him he looked like a rural character in a play. (p. 86)

This passage shows that their dreams have almost come true after moving out of the town. The reader would expect that the story goes on in an erotic way. However, the beautiful picture is rapidly broken by a hostile atmosphere when the wife says ” She reminded him it was only because he didn’t drink coffee himself” (p. 86). an a moment later she continue mocking at him “…if he thought they were going to run a laundry” (p. 86)? Also the husband’s repressed feelings and hostility is plainly brought up when he talks about the wife’s “…insane habit…” (p. 88). “Insane” is a very strong expression and shows a strong hatred against the woman as well as his thought a little later “The whole trouble with her was she needed something weaker than she was to heckle and tyrannize over” (p. 88). After a number of accusations the situation turns even into physical violence.

He dashed towards her and dragged her up to her feet and tried to pour water on her head. The dipper hung by a string on a nail and he broke it loose. Then he tried to pump water with one hand while she struggled in the other. So he gave it up and shook her instead. (p. 91)

This scene sets the seal to the violence. On the other hand there is a very strong erotic tension and the reader would wait the things go on in an erotic way. However, this moment eases the situation. After having come back from returning the rope, with the rope still there, violence may give way to a beautiful, romantic atmosphere “…the smell of broiled steak floated nose-high in the cooling air. Her face was young and smooth and fresh-looking” (p. 91). They both have pushed their hostile thoughts to the background and come back to what they used to dream when they moved to the countryside. At the very end of the story the atmosphere is quite charming: “…There was a whip-poor-will still coming back, imagine clear out of season, sitting in the crab-apple tree calling all by himself” (p. 92). This passage has a beautiful description of the mood suggesting that everything is now all right, but on the other hand all the things that are left unsaid make the reader feel that the reality is quite threatening.

3. The Time of Death

The Time of Death is a story where men are set aside almost perfectly. There are only a few mentions about men i a couple of scenes. Nevertheless, the story is strongly about negative attitudes towards men and refusing them to feel and share the feelings that the women feel so strongly. Men are hardly mentioned by name at all but only as men, something that just has to exist. “When the men came in…they were at once aware of something that shut them out, that reproved them.” (p. 237) Women think that men are not capable of experiencing and feeling the sorrow as deeply as women.

Father’s words “…Yeah, that won’t do Benny any good, they can bawl their eyes out” (p. 237) reflects that also the men have a hostile but resigned attitude towards the overemotional reactions of the women. I think that the word “bawl” even contains contempt for the women’s behaviour. This story suggests that the men as a whole are weak. In a shop Mrs McGee speaks about the owner not by name but only as “…the man who owned it” (p. 241); the fact that the owner is not mentioned by name, though he must be a well known person, is a manifestation of very negative attitudes. The man is so depreciated that he won’t even be given a chance to mourn with his own family. “Their father had got sick from so much beer in the back shed after the funeral and he stayed away from the house” (p. 242). Not even the father is appreciated enough to let him show his feelings.

4. Conclusion

In these short stories there are various kinds of tensions between men and women. In Her Table Spread the tension between the persons at the place is casual and is obvious only in a couple of scenes. When Mr Rossiter meets the parlourmaid and Mr Alban meets Valeria in the garden at the end of the story. The tension is erotic only to a less extent. It’s more or less bound to different situations and expected by the society. The strongest feelings and tensions, however, are sensed between Valeria and the officers on board.

The most erotic feelings are found in Rope, which in places has very erotic scenes. In this story the characters go from love and tenderness through even physical violence back to erotic and finally tender tension between man and wife. However, the truth is that the tension is relaxed after many accusations and the hostile feelings don’t disappear, they are only set to the background.

All three stories had clearly violence between men and women. The violence is almost without exception mental violence and sometimes it is very cruel. On the other hand the physical violence can sometimes not be distinguished from erotic, in other words it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between extremely strong feelings.


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