‘Ex Parte’ by Ring Lardner: Short Story Analysis
‘Ex Parte’ is a modernist realistic satirical piece by American short story writer and famous columnist Ring Lardner. Lardner was well known for his short stories, which were all satirical works. ‘Ex Parte’ is about the narrator’s divorce, which took place because his wife had one problem; she didn’t like his taste in homes and furnishings. ‘Ex Parte’ in Spanish means done with respect to or in the interests of one side only or an interested party. The narrator, who was to marry Florence, did not consult her when he bought a well-furnished, elegant flat. He felt that the apartment was gorgeous and fitted into his budget. He bought the flat and, in the bargain, made an enemy of his wife, whose name is Florence. Never in his wildest dreams did the narrator think that Florence could disagree on the matter of home and furnishings. Soon he realized that his wife had a hatred for new furnishings and good homes and had a ‘barn complex’ the by-product of all the girls related to Florence who had gone to school together – Marjorie, Mildred, and Florence. Mildred and Florence were school chums who had an uncanny love for barns. It comes out humorously and sarcastically in this short piece by Lardner. But that which seems humorous to us would become a serious situation. The narrator would even go to the extent of drunken insanity and attempt to burn his new flat’s mahogany dining table.
The narrator met his wife at a get-together in New York. His friend Joe Paxton and Joe’s wife Marjorie Paxton, a school friend of Florence, also attended. The narrator mentions those who attended, most of them being male. The narrator seemed to be a very popular person in his friend circle. However, he admits that if he were to get married and divorce his wife or his wife divorce him, these very same friends would ditch him. Then the only friends who would stay by his side were the two or three people who would go out with him every night for drinks, so long as he was paying for the drinks. You get the impression that the narrator was a bit conceited, had a skewed opinion on many matters, and was disgruntled because of his latest divorce, where he feels he was in the right and was not to be blamed. The narrator is also chivalrous in the sense that he feels he has been wronged because Florence divorced him on a flimsy pretext but that unlike Florence, who has narrated her woes to everyone, he wants to take his secrets to the grave. He plans to write down his grievances, put it in an envelope together with his will, and leave it in possession of his friend, Ed Osborne. He feels he can trust Ed on this matter because they had once tried to get into the publishing business, and he implicitly trusted him. Notice that the narrator satirically mentions that Florence has washed dirty linen in public about their divorce to the ‘red and blue network’ to Republicans and Democrats alike. However, he is being chivalrous and is not going to tell on her. Thus, we get to read the hilarious circumstances that led to the narrator’s divorce.
The narrator has a lot of friends. He relies a lot on them and their approval as well as their opinion on several matters. When the narrator wanted to marry Florence, his in-laws decided to give the relationship a chance to grow for one year as they did not want their daughter Florence to marry a man who lived far away from them. A month before his marriage, he runs into a friend who had bought a house with lovely furnishings. This man is the narrator’s friend Jeff Cooper, and Cooper is a married man. However, his firm Standard Oil suddenly posted him to China, and he had to sell his fully-furnished and well done up flat, which he had bought for 45,000 dollars. The narrator sees the flat and is dazzled by its excellent furnishings. He readily buys the flat, thinking that Florence would agree with his taste. To every one of us to whom the flat is described, we find nothing wrong at all with the flat. It is done up in stucco, a fine plaster used for coating wall surfaces or molding into architectural decorations. The furniture is new, fancy, and strong because it is mostly made of mahogany. The people furnishing the house, who were the Wolfe Brothers, even went out of their way to create a sort of contrast to the place by not using mahogany in the bedroom but another kind of similar wood that looked different to remove monotony. The narrator immediately buys the flat and furnishings. He was also pleased with the mahogany piano that he got. He, therefore, did not require his mother’s piano. The narrator is unable to conceal the truth from Florence and tells her all about it. Notice how Florence mentions that she hoped the narrator’s taste in homes was better than his clothes choice. It indicates that he dressed shabbily. In Florence’s opinion, a perfect house was made like a barn with nothing new. This is highly amusing, especially when we see her reaction to the house. She goes into her shell and cries all the time. The narrator mentions that the only time they were a happy couple was when they were on their week-long honeymoon in Yellowstone. The very fact that they only went to Yellowstone for a weekend shows that they were only upper-middle-class or just middle class, and it was through good luck that they had managed to get the Cooper home.
Florence hates the home at first sight. She keeps silent and cries all the time. This is because:
- She was not consulted about her choice and needs of a family house by the narrator.
- The house was shiny, brand-new, and so horrid in her skewed opinion, which adds humor to the story.
When the Dwan family calls on them, the narrator realizes that his old friend Dwan’s wife Mildred also went to school with Florence. They are quite similar in temperament:
- They keep crying all the time.
- They have a ‘barn complex’ where homes are concerned.
- They picked this notion about old homes being lovely from their school.
The narrator invites the Dwan family to his home. Then Mildred Dwan asks the narrator and his wife to their home, which the narrator soon realizes to his amusement was a reorganized barn. Florence finds the house or barn to be beautiful, while the narrator sees the whole idea of converting a barn into a home as ridiculous. He thinks his wife is not sincere when she keeps on saying that she loves the place. He thinks she is a kidder, but he is wrong. Florence indeed loves the place. However, to normal eyes like the narrator, the place was a big mess. It looked horrid with not a hint of mahogany anywhere. Most of the wood had knots that needed to be covered with rugs. There was a false canopy to keep the rain from falling on the bed. The whole house’s lighting was inadequate, and the dinner table was made up of planks nailed together and looking scorched, and much more. Indeed, it was a disaster. The narrator had to bite his tongue for the whole visit because he wanted to joke about the ensemble or make his point very clear that he did not like the place.
We see that the narrator is cheerful, patient, and generous. He is patient with his wife and her barn complex, ready even to sell his well-furnished home to search for a barn for his wife to stay. He is jovial as he loves cracking jokes, especially about the barn house of the Dwan family. When Mildred Dwan mentions that she was looking out for a piano, the narrator generously said that since she was Florence’s friend, he would let her buy his mother’s old piano, which was in good condition for a low price of 200 dollars. To his shock, he is told by both Mildred and Florence that it could not be accepted because mahogany would ruin the beautiful look of the old barn house. After all, it would look fancy and brand new. The narrator is disgusted with the Dwans’. He sarcastically tries to add to the dining table’s overall decor by burning his cigarette upon it, for which he is rebuked by the Dwans’ and by his wife. She was growing angrier with him by the hour and more envious of the Dwans’ by the minute. The narrator even notices the irony that to play a card game of ‘families’ or ‘bridge’, they had to spend forty minutes trying to get the lamps to focus on the card table in the evening. After doing all this, the only thing they could make out was the difference between a red coat from a black coat and not a club from a spade. The whole barn house was made of cheap maple instead of rich mahogany.
However, in the end, Florence demands that she wanted a barn house just like the Dwans’. The narrator is exasperated, but to please his wife, he tells her that he would soon sell his flat and try to find a barn house. One evening he comes back fully intoxicated on his friend’s Early American Rye whiskey. In his hands are a pair of shears, a blow torch, and an axe. He rolls in the mud before entering their well-furnished home to look like something dirty and old, which he ironically thought would endear him to his eccentric and barn crazy wife. In his anger, he decides not to sell the house but to refurbish the whole place to look like the home of the Dwans’. He frightens his wife and maid by burning the dining table to make it look like the Dwans’ scorched table. They both leave him on that same day, never to return. The story ends with the narrator realizing in a sort of an anti-climax that the whiskey was:
- An Early American whiskey was what the Dwans’ barn house and its furnishings were made of.
- The person who supplied his friend Harry Cross with the whiskey that ultimately ruined his marriage was Mike Farrell, who lived in his old apartments at Belden.
- The narrator would return to live in Belden, the place where he had consumed the whiskey that led his marriage to its doom.
The story ends in a satirical anti-climax that makes the reader laugh. Ring Lardner wants to satirize why people get married and how they divorce each other over the flimsiest of reasons.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story by American writer Ring Lardner. I hope to read, review, and analyze more American short stories, novels, essays, and non-fiction books in the coming days. This is in keeping with the fact that one of the most critical elections of the decade has taken place in America. During these days, I want to celebrate America’s rich literary heritage. So, if you are looking for more American bookish content, this is the site that you must keep looking.
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