Thursday, April 19, 2012

Analysis of the "Judges Wife"

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Isabel Allende incorporates many of the common elements of fiction writing in her short story, “The Judge’s Wife;” most of all, she uses intense imagery to create the background setting as well as her story’s main characters. Considering the story’s setting and characters, it’s interesting to note that there never appears the typical “shootout” confrontation a reader might expect. In spite of this, it’s doubtful anyone would come away from this story with a sense of boredom, which is unusual in today’s world of short attention spans and in-your-face action.

“The Judge’s Wife” is set in a rustic Latin-American town that’s just large enough to have a town square, but small enough so that none of the town’s inhabitants are ignorant to the drama this story entails. Allende gives no explicit details about the town besides the fact that there is a courthouse, a bank, and a corner shop owned by a Turkish woman. Instead, she uses her adept skill of imagery to paint a picture of this town, a place that modern time has seemingly passed by. Modern time, that is, for the USA. Small, dusty, square-centered towns in today’s America are a thing of the past, preserved only in the lore of old “wild west” stories. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” Stephen Crane portrays just such a town which, in the end, could not hang on to its past; could not let progress pass it by. But “The Judge’s Wife” is not set in today’s America, nor is the small town a thing of the past in much of Latin America. In fact, many aspects of life in Latin America can be compared to those of the mid- to late-1800’s western United States. From the socially acceptable brothels to the lone lawman in constant conflict with a vigilante outlaw, rural Latin America has much development in its future before it can catch up to the life experienced today in the U.S. Allende’s first use of imagery appears when she describes the local climate of the old town “…the heat and the dust that filtered in through every pore to lodge itself in the soul,” (Allendale, 61). Setting is most definitely important to this story. The appearance of a motorcar later in the story lends to the idea that it takes place in more modern times (actually it takes place in the latter half of the twentieth century). So the fact that such a town (with its physical and mental characteristics) exists in modern times means that the story must take place in a region with such towns; hence, “The Judge’s Wife” can only be set in Latin America.

Character development is where the author best puts her imagery to work for the reader; Allende doesn’t just describe the story’s characters, but rather lets small details come together to form her character’s features. In first describing the judge who “dressed formally in black, and, despite the all-pervading dust in this godforsaken town, his boots always shone with beeswax,” readers come to understand that this man has definite values, and a strict adherence to them (61). This is no small detail for the judge, as his attention to formalities, especially those concerning the law, is the one of the main catalysts to this story’s conflict. The story’s protagonist, Dona Casilda, is described as an “ethereal slip of a girl” whose fingers were “obviously unskilled in the art of rousing a man to pleasure,” (61). But she was the epitome of a delicate and refined lady who “was such an airy, diaphanous creature that a moment’s carelessness might mean she disappeared altogether” (61). Then there is Nicolas Vidal, the antagonist. A straightforward description of this man would leave out the reasoning behind why he is the monster that he appears to be. For this, the author still utilizes imagery, but Vidal’s description is so lengthy, detailed, and important, that nearly an entire page of this short story is devoted to a flashback from his birth to present. Readers learn of how he came to be in existence, an accidental and unwanted pregnancy, with its numerous failed attempts at abortion, which only served to “temper his soul to the hardness of iron” (61). At birth, because he had four nipples, he was predicted to lose his head over a woman. This prediction created in Vidal a life-long fear of women, which “lent his face a doleful expression,” and clouded his eyes with “tears he would never allow to fall” (61). Further details reveal that this man constantly harasses the town, and is such a fearsome man, that he and his band of outlaws cannot be brought to justice by the town’s judge.

The point of view and style of Allende are easily discerned from the story. She writes in third person omniscient, with a basic chronological sequence of events. The point of view is important to truly get to know each of the main characters. To have only heard the story from Casilda’s point of view would have changed the whole impact of the story; the audience would have only seen the view of a woman who had to take some serious risks in order to protect her family on two separate occasions. To tell the story from Vidal’s eyes may have made for a more adventurous tale, but would require too much development, and would have left out the crucial decisions faced by Casilda. To have written “The Judge’s Wife” in a different style wouldn’t have altered any meaning, but the author correctly chose the sequence which allowed the story simply to be told, and to let the theme and irony be effectively portrayed.

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Theme is a huge, underlying part of this story, and is supported largely by the setting. Not only is the town “behind the times” in its physical development, but mentally as well; Latin America in the mid- to late-twentieth century was, and still is, a very traditional, male dominated society. It is a very “macho” society, which is blatantly evidenced in the story when the judge had attempted to set a trap for Vidal using Vidal’s own mother, Juana the Forlorn. Vidal’s only reasoning to his men about why he refused to aid his mother was, “We’ll see who’s got more balls, the Judge or me” (614). Vidal’s macho attitude backfired though, when his mother killed herself to hide from the shame that her own son wouldn’t rescue her. Vidal wasn’t alone in dealing with the traditional macho attitude; the judge also had to contend with his own masculinity. After withstanding the insults and pleadings of his townsfolk to release Juana the Forlorn, only his bride of seven years was able to change his mind. As described, Casilda was a meek woman, content with her place in the world to raise children, keep the house, and go to church. So it was difficult for her to break from tradition, overstep her bounds as a woman, and “[go] against front of the whole town” (615).

The traditional theme of the story again appears near the end, when Casilda, in an effort to save her children, must break from her womanly role as an innocent victim. To buy time for her children until the militia arrives, Casilda prepares to volunteer her body to the ensuing attackers. When only Vidal appears, she then turns her traditional role as a woman from that of being a victim into a position of power. She at once became the controller of the situation, utilizing all the sexual skills she had never indulged, or even dared to explore, in her marriage to Judge Hidalgo. Throughout the encounter, she never lost thought of the safety of her children, but at some point she discovered “her own possibilities [as a woman, and] gave herself completely” to Vidal (617).

Symbolism does not take a large role in “The Judge’s Wife.” The only place it is apparent is in Casilda’s confrontation with her husband in the town square “[she] tied a black ribbon around [her children’s] arms as a token of mourning” (615). Casilda was mourning her innocence as a mere housewife, marking the end of the seven years of servitude to her husband.

At the end of the story, the irony hits hard. Throughout his life, Nicolas Vidal had endured a fear of women, and only encountered them when he needed to satisfy the demands of manhood (61). But in the end, when he encountered the one woman whom he never at once considered a threat of possibly fulfilling his deadly prophecy, it was she with whom he let himself free. She showed him the “intimacy, tenderness, secret laughter, the riot of the senses, [and] the joy of shared passions” that he had never known (616). He had finally felt love, and he chose not to run away from it, even as the soldiers neared.

“The Judge’s Wife” is not a long story, at just over five pages. But in those few pages, primarily with the use of strong imagery, Allende creates a piece readers can understand to the point of empathy. Though one of the main characters perishes at the end, readers are left with a sense of hope that love can exist in even the most hardened or oppressed of hearts

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