The Cut Glass Bowl Summary- Fitzgerald
Introductions and Food for Thought
Wednesday again; where does the time go? Last week we wrapped up Ray Bradbury's, The Veldt, and ended with a look at our next short story. The children left with their copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, The Cut Glass Bowl, and one very simple instruction, that being to take the following quote;
"Evelyn, I'm going to give a present that's as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through."
and paint me a picture of exactly who and what they believed Evelyn to be without having read the story. Reading wasn't necessary in understanding that the "cut glass bowl" was going to be symbolic, but I wanted to know what kind of woman or even man they expected to meet as the story unfolded. I wanted them to pass judgment on this woman, I encouraged preconceived notions, and I did it because I wanted them to see that unfair discernment is one of humanity's biggest failings.
Their picture could take any form, and what they brought in with them today showed individuality and diversity, but more on that later. First, you need to meet the author.
Life, Living, and Excess
F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of America's most prolific writers, and the esteem he was granted by his contemporaries speaks for itself. Through the novels, short stories, and the various scripts he wrote during his lifetime he gives us a glimpse of the "roaring twenties," and a glorious, tantalizing picture of the "jazz age." His works examined the morality of young adults in the early twentieth century, and told the stories of their trials and tribulations. He also gives us insight into the carefree attitudes and excesses of the time. Unfortunately, he and his wife Zelda also embraced those same excesses he wrote about, and much of what we live through his novels was in one way or another semi-autobiographical.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald began their married life honeymooning at the Biltmore Hotel, and it was at the Biltmore that they began to build the reputation that would follow them throughout their marriage. Their honeymoon ended quickly as they were asked to leave the hotel, but the party that got them thrown out was never ending. It was a way of life.
The Fitzgeralds lived the life of the rich and famous; they opened their home to their friends, and the party continued. Their marriage was described as turbulent; he was jealous; she was a flirt. Both were termed "free thinkers," and both of them were equally guilty in their pursuit of a lifestyle that would previously have been unacceptable, a lifestyle that to many was still unacceptable.
Fitzgerald often modeled his characters after his wife, and the life they led both together and separately. In the whirlwind of parties that had become their life, F. Scott Fitzgerald became a notorious drunk; he also became abusive. As for Zelda, she became more and more unstable as the years went on, unthinkingly putting herself in dangerous situations, making scenes in front of both friends and strangers, and eventually she had a nervous breakdown. She spent years checking in and out of clinics while her husband continued to write, their relationship and its dysfunction may not be an inspirational story, but it did infuse his creativity; he also continued to drink, excessively.
Zelda eventually moved back to live with her mother; she never regained mental stability, but she was there when her husband passed away at his girlfriend's apartment. True love.......... young love. They both lost themselves, but I guess they never lost that. The stories that novels are made of, ironic, isn't it?
"The Cut Glass Bowl- A Summary
The Cut-Glass Bowl
Our story begins with an afternoon social visit, a visit to a young, beautiful, socially desired young wife by a rather curious, old gossip, Mrs. Roger Fairboalt. The reason for the visit was simple; she was curious. She wanted to see the young beauty, she wanted to see her home, the "things" in the home, and she was curious about the rumors of an affair that had circulated around town between the young wife, Mrs. Piper, and a certain Mr. Freddy Gedny.
The two women, as different as they were, were both quite schooled in small talk. They talked of the furnishings, and the china, and then Mrs, Fairboalt zeroed in on one very specific item, that being a very large, cut-glass bowl. Evelyn explains that it was a wedding gift from a friend, someone she saw socially before becoming engaged to her husband, and then she explains the peculiar story behind the gift. She shares that when her former boyfriend bestowed the gift, he also gave her words to go with it, "Evelyn, I'm going to give a present that's as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through."
Evelyn accepted the gift, and it seems she also accepted the "curse" of his words. She even placed the gift in a prominent place in her home. The "cut-glass" bowl, the image of how she herself was seen, but did she know it was a curse? Did she even realize the meaning of the words he spoke? Had she even given them a second thought? Did she know that she should have?
As Mrs. Fairboalt leaves the Piper home she muses that although the couple is doing well financially, the husband would do best to look to his home. Seconds after she leaves, a young man approaches the house. He's hurried, and distraught, and upon his entrance a visibly upset Evelyn reminds him that she can no longer see him, that she loves her husband.
The night before Harold Piper had come home with the rumor, he now knew what had been common gossip all summer, what the little innuendoes meant, the innuendoes that people had wanted him to hear. He forgave her, but wouldn't tolerate any further contact between his wife and her accomplice. She should never be alone with him again, but now she was. Evelyn urged him to leave; she told him she'd given her word; what would Harold say? It didn't take long to find out.
Evelyn has done what her husband wanted , and yet, his early arrival home puts her in a panic. She hides Freddy in another room, hopes that she can get him out of the house before Harold discovers them. She didn't plan on the fact that Harold would linger downstairs, that he would want to talk to her, or that he would so understandingly forgive her "imprudent friendship." What Harold hadn't counted on was that his wife would attempt to deceive him again, or that the man she was hiding in the kitchen would hit the cut-glass bowl, sending a hollow, empty chime in alarm. The bowl had been a gift from a jaded lover, and its curse had caused their discovery. The rocking of the bowl, had succeeded in rocking her world.
Their marriage went on, but it was never the same. Evelyn poured all the love she had into raising her two children. Her marriage was nothing more than two people occupying the same space, but if nothing else it was cordial, and she did have her children.
Curse or Coincidence
As the children get older Evelyn becomes withdrawn, sad. She's no longer seen as young or beautiful; she no longer tries to make herself beautiful, and she increasingly keeps herself away from social events and dinners. She no longer desires the affection and love she had sought. Her social venues now consist of women and talk, she immerses herself in books, but books already read, and she begins to worry about things that had never bothered her before. Fitzgerald describes her as "receding gradually into middle age." How that term has changed, and how very short the life he lived, to believe that middle age came in your thirties, and to die in your forties. His experiences were not so great after all.......... think of the stories he wasn't here to tell, and the changes he missed.
But back to the story; the curse continues to shadow Evelyn's life, and the bowl is always there, like laughter in the kitchen, but there was no laughter, what it bred was tears and blood. It's Evelyn's thirty-fifth birthday, and her husband has called to tell her they're having company for dinner. It's a business dinner, and times are hard, businesses have to start working toward a common goal. She's busy, too busy, taking care of the things she once would have left to the maids, and then she hears her daughter crying, and finds she's cut herself on the cut-glass bowl which was momentarily moved to the floor for cleaning. There's time for a handkerchief, and a quick kiss. Just enough time to dry her tears before Harold comes home. Harold, who is just a little drunk, and ready to become drunker.
He wants punch for his guests, and not a small bowl; he wants the cut-glass bowl. He wants a lot of punch, and he wants everyone else to have a lot of punch, and they do. Everyone becomes just a bit worse for wear, and everyone seems to be getting a little out of sorts, but then the little girl gets sick, and the party runs amuck. It's the curse; a business deal gone bad from too much punch in a bowl, and a little girl who loses her hand because she touched it.
And this is where we'll end, because the most important quote of the story comes up ahead, and you need to read it. You'll need to decide for yourself who Evelyn was, and if the gift that changed her life really defined her as woman. Who was Evelyn?
I love that they listen!!!!!!!!!!!!
My kids came in carrying their "paintings." Not all paintings mind you, that was an expression. What I wanted was a visual, written, or solid portrayal of who they perceived Evelyn was from the quote. I got one painting, two collages, a piece of plexi-glass (you got me on that one), a piece of crystal, one drawing, a mirror, and a quilt that three of the girls got together and made over the weekend. It was four squares, and it was amazing! Hopefully, I can get a good photo and upload.
A huge portion of our discussion was focused on the fact that the kids didn't believe Evelyn and Freddy had had an affair. They believed that there was a bond, and that the bond included a mutual flirtation, but only four of them thought that the two would eventually embark on an affair. They talked about relationships, and how they would never think to question a close friendship between their spouse and someone of the opposite sex, and they conceded that those friendships could be made at anytime during one's life.
Only one of my boys stated that it would bother him; he said that he would want to be a part of the friendship, bbq's and all that, you know. He didn't talk about jealousy; he talked about inclusion. The other boys were adamant that if they were told those rumors, and really believed them to be true; the trust would be gone, and the marriage would be over, but they said they'd stick it out. They'd stay married. That threw me.
On the other hand, the girls found the thought of staying together appalling. They said that nothing would be worse than spending your life in a house that wasn't happy, to be with someone who didn't love them anymore, or to be with someone who mistrusted them and stayed anyway. They told the boys that if they were married to them they would leave, and that any woman with a brain in her head would leave them too. My girls think themselves tough, and they pretty much are, they see themselves as independent, and I have no doubt they will be just that, but they also give the impression that they believe you don't have to try. I threw them scenarios; you don't work, you have no money, where you going? We talked about finances, and surviving, and the economy............ they all know I'm divorced; I make no secret of what's hard and what's not. They ask and I answer; I don't ever delude them into believing that I am perfect and exempt from mistakes, but then we hit the big glitch............ the President's speech from last night. I don't know how it wormed its way into our discussion, must have been the economy, but it left me making this 90 degree turn to get them back, and I did, with symbolism.
What did the cut-glass bowl represent? Did Evelyn live up to what they thought she was going to be? The answer was no. They expected a completely different person than the one that Evelyn embodied. She was not what they expected. They were looking for Evelyn to be heartless, not a heartbreaker, they were looking for her to be cold and unable to give of herself, and what they saw was a woman who'd made a mistake, and then had given whatever she had left to her children. They saw her "hiding" of Freddy as her biggest mistake, and they couldn't understand why she did it; they felt that she had admitted guilt when she was in truth innocent, all because of one bad choice, and they thought her husband was stupid. When the jury went out Evelyn was found innocent by all eleven jurors, and Harold received nothing, not even compassion.
In their eyes it all came down to the time itself, the innocence of the women who lived in that time, and the way they were sheltered form the world. Why did women marry to make their families happy, why did they marry within their own society, and why would anyone socialize with the intentions of finding a husband? Why couldn't they just have fun? Evelyn was not the kind of person they believed they'd be meeting. The last two descriptions from the quote took them all of five minutes to analyze. They believed the emptiness of the bowl symbolized the lack of love in Evelyn's life; she was empty, and the "just as easy to see through," came from the innocence of never knowing she had to hide. In the end; they said that the quote more aptly described Evelyn's husband, and the things he threw away. That maybe that was the curse all along.
I admittedly didn't get everything I was looking for today; I really wanted to push them, but this is Fitzgerald, and I did get what they gave me: I can't argue with any of it. I think that Fitzgerald would appreciate these young people if he had the chance to meet them, and I also think he'd be running off to the bar after he did, but that they also might just have inspired a new story. There's always one more!
Next week: Jack London's, To Build A Fire