‘The Girls in Their Summer Dresses’ is a short narrative by Irwin Shaw which brings on the surface a heated argument between Michael, the husband and Frances, the wife. The two are walking in New York City holding hands, when the attention of the husband is carried away on seeing a pretty woman (Shaw). From the conversation that ensues between these two, it is crystal clear that, this is not the first time such a thing is happening. In order to elaborate on the thematic issue of marriage in this text, the author uses these two to reveal to the reader that, the union can only be at its best based on respect for each other. The theme of wealth is evident in the story as the couple is presented by the author as people who are moneyed. Although portrayed as such, Michael does not seem to have a sense of respect for his wife while Frances is encompassed with feelings of insecurity (Shaw). Although legally married, it is obvious that Frances can smell the coffee that things might head for the worse if the behavior of the husband is anything to go by.
The theme of betrayal is equally addressed in this story. As for Michael, to admire another woman in presence of his wife is not only betrayal but also disrespectful. He also betrays his feelings toward his wife by doing that. When she breaks down, the husband does not seem to care portraying his yet another trait of insensitivity (Shaw). On the other hand, Frances is seen betraying her trust on the husband which leads to her feeling insecure. This particular article will be a critical essay on this short narrative by Irwin Shaw. Basically, I will first recognize and elaborate the argument that the author has presented and I will provide my own view on the author’s argument. This is not a summary of the story but rather an evaluation on the writer’s disposition as seen in the story.
When the story begins, the author portrays a happily married couple holding hands tightly walking along the streets of Washington. The presence of the warm sun is symbolic of a warm relationship between these two (Shaw). The environment, as described by the writer, paints a picture of good things coming on the mind of the reader. This is not to happen as it is short lived as soon as we realize it. Going by this, I hold a different view as far as this first episode is concerned. The author confuses the mind of the reader when the high expectations of a happy couple are ended abruptly. The environment as portrayed by the writer paints a totally different thing of what follows shortly after. The nicely dressed couples and the warm sun shows romance and love which is not what the writer addresses. I would have preferred the events in the narrative to take place in a different setting say, a dull Monday morning instead of a warm Sunday afternoon. The place, in which the disagreement between the husband and the wife occurs, would have may be in a cold country side instead of a bright colored New York City. This would have been symbolic of what later ensues between Michael and Frances.
The place where the author commences the narrative is also at stake. The events in the story, begins in streets of Washington where the writer introduces the reader to the major characters. The reader realizes what is happening in the story shortly after. The betrayal between the two is introduced alongside the constant quarrels between them. From my own view, I think the author got it all wrong. The story would have at least shed some light on the reader on what has been happening between these two, so as to know what to expect when the two go for an outing that Sunday afternoon. Instead, the reader is left at the mercies of his mind to guess what is happening. It would have been advisable for the story to start somewhere in the home of these two before progressing in the street. This would have served as some background information to assist the reader to get connected on what to expect throughout in the story. The background information would also be crucial in drawing conclusions on the end result of such a marriage.
In the story, the author uses two couples so as to pass her message to the reader. The couples are seen as young, naive and immature to be in a marriage union. Anytime they are faced with a problem, they don’t seem to reach an agreement on the way out (Shaw & Tokiwa, 17). For instance, when the two start quarreling about Michael behavior of looking at women, Frances ends up crying and his supposed husband seems to care less. In addition to that, when she tries to change the topic, her husband is slow to realize that, and proceeds to discuss about other women justifying his reason for behaving that way (Shaw & Tokiwa, 18). All in all, the two are seen as a bunch of drunkards who are far from getting a solution of whatever problem they have. In my opinion, I think I would not have encouraged the writer to be too hard on young marriages. By doing so, the author portrays these young marriages as being not workable no matter what is done. The author does not seem to appreciate the fact that, challenges are there in a marriage relationship but they are solutions for them. Instead of the author doing this, he opts to paint in the mind of the reader a picture of a marriage which is headed for the rocks. The efforts which are made by Frances of trying to bring some sanity in their marriage are equally frustrated by the author by using Michael who is uncooperative right from the word go.
It is absurd how the writer of the story is too hard on marriages from the onset of the story. Frances and Michael are affluent in all perspectives, in addition, their Stevenson counterparts are equally well off (Shaw & Tokiwa, 19). Despite all these, the former’s marriage happiness has remained a vocabulary throughout the story oblivious of the fact that they have money. In this case, the author is kind of trying to relay a message that happy marriages are not based on money which is not the case here as far as I am concerned. In my own view, for any couple to be declared as a husband and wife, is so as for them to have their own home and manage their own affairs the best way they know how. In order for all this to happen it is obvious that money has to be spent meaning the two have to be financially stable. Without finances, a marriage cannot work as there will be more problems than can be imagined. Money, in this case should not be seen by the author as the main cause of the problems being experienced by the couple.
Throughout the story, Irwin Shaw portrays men as being selfish, insensitive and self centered. Using Michael as a classic example of a womanizer, the author develops him throughout the story as somebody who cannot stop at nothing to drop her nasty behavior of admiring other women in her wife’s presence (Shaw & Tokiwa, 19). He presents men as always cruel towards their wives. On the other hand, Frances is portrayed as being loyal to her husband from all perspectives. She is a classic example of a loving woman who can stop at nothing to please her husband no matter what it takes. She portrays women as good in all perspectives. In both cases, Shaw has it all wrong once again. In my opinion, when two grown ups decide to get married they automatically become one. Any problem arising from the marriage union should be seen as a collective thing which has been brought about by the two instead of shifting blame on an individual. This is what Shaw does throughout his narration. He makes the reader take the perspective that the marriage does not work because Michael is adulterous but there is no single instance where he shed light on us how Frances contributes towards the nasty behavior of the husband. The behavior must have been triggered by something like for example the wife could have been underperforming in bed resulting to the husband looking for a solution outside marriage.
In the same story, women are not judged fairly by the author. At one incidence in the story, Frances begs to her husband for him to admit that she is pretty like the many women in New York Street. She also pleads with him to admit that he loves her. In a separate incidence, on Michael saying that he is happily married, the wife does not seem to agree with that (Shaw & Tokiwa, 20). This is sparked by her feelings of insecurity that courts her throughout the story. This clearly portrays women as victims of a sweet marriage gone sour. They are made by the writer to beg for literally everything from money to romance (Shaw & Tokiwa, 21). When Michael says that he runs towards her whether something good or bad has happened, she blatantly says that he goes to every woman he meets on the street. In my opinion, the writer is just too biased. She is so hard on women and makes the reader regard them as lesser species compared with their male counterparts who don’t seem to worry on what and who their wives admire. The fact that Michael admits that he is happily married adds to the point that men don’t feel insecure unlike women.
Throughout the story, the author is seen supporting the unfaithfulness that encompasses the relationship between Frances and Michael. Whenever Frances tries to look for a solution she is soothed by the husband who is uncooperative and likes postponing any issue at hand which revolves around his infidelity towards the wife (Shaw & Tokiwa, 22). This eventually contributes to the wife feeling not part of the marriage affair. In the view of this, the author presents a conflict of unfaithfulness which he seems to ardently support. Back at the mind of the reader he or she is made to think that it is right for men to be unfaithful to their wives and manage to get away with it. The author would have at least come up with an incidence where Michael gives his ears to the frequent cries made by his wife. This is not provided by Irwin Sway.
The bone of contention in the story is women. Everything from the first paragraph revolves around pretty women, making the story monotonous and therefore boring for the reader. Whenever a topic is raised by Michael, Frances looks for a way to link that with women (Shaw & Tokiwa, 23). When the two are discussing a football match which is due later that day, he is very busy admiring another girl walking past him. Frances, on seeing this, tells him that he admires women everywhere they go be it library, cinema or even in a hotel. When an author writes, it is advisable to try and present a wide range of issues. This gives the story a uniqueness that makes it sound and look interesting anytime an individual reads it. In this story, the author does not seem to have an idea of that. The development of the story is very simple and one can easily guess what to expect next thus lacking critical thinking which should accompany it throughout.
From the above explanation that attempts to evaluate on the argument of the author, and then taking position to give my own opinion, it is evident that critical thinking is a requirement for any criticism to sound sensible to whoever is going to read it. It does not necessarily mean that the above criticism is all there is in regard to the short story ‘The Girls in Their Summer Dresses’. This is just part of it. Criticism of any work of art depends on the reasoning of a critic therefore it is subject to discussion. In this view, I must admit that, it is this criticism that keeps the writers on their feet as they are always out there trying to rectify on their weaknesses as pointed by the critics. It should not therefore be taken in bad faith, but rather a starting point for one to build his career and a platform to prove the critics they are wrong by always giving the best there is. It therefore goes that, any literary work, however perfect it might appear, it is subject to criticism. It is part of our life and writers cannot do without it.