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And the Truth of the Matter is...

Updated on August 30, 2013

How do emotions and the era one lives in collide?

The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen is a brilliant novel of realism. In this novel, Frazen exposes a truth that lies in every typical family. Sylvia Roth has lost her daughter to murder. Sylvia’s husband refuses to acknowledge this fact, and because she is unable to express her feelings to him, Sylvia is forced to find an alternative outlet for her emotions. Because of the gender roles in marriages portrayed in the novel’s time period, Sylvia Roth is unable to mourn her daughter and have the help of a compassionate husband to help her get through the loss. As Frazen’s story traces the lives of the Lamberts, who like so many other families have their share of dysfunctions, heartache and pain, he explores what it is like to be unable to live one’s life as if he or she is impervious of feeling. The characters in this novel all have some sort of secret that they wish to tell, yet because of the society in which they live and the roles each character is expected to play, the characters are unable to function and express themselves correctly, thus causing friction in their everyday lives.

Sylvia Roth used to be a lot of things: a mother of three, a talented artist, and a happy person in general. Sylvia Roth used to be an amateur printmaker, that is, until her daughter was murdered. At first her life was pretty much ordinary:

She had a sun-filled studio in her house in Chadds Ford, she had a cream-smooth lithography stone and a twenty-piece set of German woodblock chisels, and she belonged to a Wilmington art guild in whose semi-annual show, while her youngest child, Jordan, grew from a tomboy into to an independent young woman, she’d sold decorative prints for prices like forty dollars. (299)

Unfortunately for Sylvia, she no longer has the heart to do this type of artwork anymore. She wants justice for her daughter’s murder, and now all she does is draw guns. Sylvia’s husband refuses to admit the terrible death of their child, and in doing so, he forces Sylvia to cope with her feelings all on her own. Sylvia tries to talk to Mr. Roth, but he does not give her the support she needs, and so “for five years Sylvia printed, drew, and painted nothing but guns. Year after year only guns” (299). Sylvia has no outlet for her emotions because society, during this time, believed that women should be seen and not heard and never be too emotional. This was the correct way to behave.

Women were not supposed to be emotional and men were not either during this time. The men were expected to take care of the family and bring home the paycheck while the woman was to do whatever her husband asked of her. Women were expected to behave as the men did and not show their feelings, but hold them in. But, holding these feelings deep inside have caused Sylvia to become a different person, giving a false persona of happiness, when inside she is tormented. As she mingles with the Lamberts and other couples on the ship, Sylvia is all smiles until she can longer keep up the false pretenses.

Sylvia starts to confide in Enid Lambert; they become friendly with one another, and they begin to talk openly. Sylvia is comfortable around Enid and feels that she can tell a secret she has been holding inside waiting to tell someone, anyone, so she lets Enid in own her secret of drawing guns and the assassination of the man who killed her daughter. It is “‘Terrible terrible’, Enid says with open disapproval” (299). For a woman to be drawing these kinds of things and the loss of a child was horrifying to Enid. But, the truth of the matter is, if Sylvia had the right to express herself freely and for her husband to be able to mourn openly, she could have moved on past Jordan’s death, except society’s rules won’t let her.

Sylvia could draw more than guns of course, but, “what she hungered to draw was guns[,]” and as she uses her drawings to ease her pain her husband has chosen to block the whole matter from his mind (300). Sylvia, unable to acknowledge out loud what was done to her daughter, is now fixated on weaponry and easing her suffering by at times drawing her own hands around a gun. At times Sylvia:

Drew her hands and her wrists and her forearms in what she guessed (for she had never held a gun) were appropriate gripes for a .50 caliber Desert Eagle, a nine-millimeter Glock, a fully-automatic M16 with folding aluminum stock, and other exotic weapons from the catalogues that she kept in brown envelops in her sun-drenched studio. (300)

It must have been so hard for Sylvia to be able to enjoy her studio with the sun shinning through it endlessly while the only thing she can think to draw are guns, things that constitute a sort of darkness in her heavily lighted room.

Sylvia Roth is just one character in this novel going through an emotional time, yet she is the only one doing something about it. Sylvia wants to have her daughter’s murder assassinated because she needs to have some sort of closure. She cannot live anymore until this action is taken because all she does now is go through life, “senseless.” Cooking and cleaning and going to therapy etc. are not enough for Sylvia. She needs to vent and let the world know that she is in pain. By not being able to express herself to her husband, she is now forced to try something different, something that will bring attention to her suffering. Sylvia “told herself the truth: she wanted Khellye Withers dead” (304). If only she were able to live as she felt then, Sylvia would not have had to plot to kill her daughter’s murderer.

Society’s gender roles and society’s so called “correct” way of doing things keep backfiring in this novel. Sylvia Roth is forced to be emotional and to draw guns because society won’t let her talk about her feelings with her husband or let him listen to them. Society has made Sylvia take drastic measures in plotting to kill her daughter’s murderer because it would not let her kill him in her mind. When Sylvia is able to release her pain upon Enid Lambert, it is as if Sylvia has been freed from a prison that held her in. She tells Enid, “Maybe if Ted (her husband) had taken more responsibility for his feelings, and been less in a hurry to go back to work at Du Point, I would have stayed just like I always was and sold my woodcuts at the guild every Christmas” (307). Sylvia is forced by society’s rules to get past it and move on mentally and declares that “Maybe it was Ted’s being so rational and businesslike that pushed me over the edge” (307). Society’s roles for the man not to become too emotional and to go to work no matter what, causes a rift in the home and causes couples the inability to communicate effectively. Even though Ted had mourned, society gave him a time limit to heal by, and he went by the rules. Whereas, if only Ted had forgotten about the rules and healed properly by mourning as long as he needed to, Sylvia would have been able to do the same. Not being able to be emotionally healthy because of societal views caused chaos and dysfunction in the life of the Roths, and even though it may have not been seen on the outside, it was still felt on the inside.


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