The Wide Net sample essay
On the surface the story appears to be about a man’s frantic search for his wife who has claimed to have gone to the river to drown herself. It begins when William Wallace returns home from a night out with his friends. He enters the house to find his wife gone and only a note left to tell him of her intentions. Without hesitation or a thought that she may have gone someplace else he rushes out to get help dragging the river to find her body. Throughout the story there is indication that the story has a deeper theme or subtext that is centered around the idea that it really talks about communication or the lack of it.
The text first introduces the communication problems at the beginning of the story by describing how Hazel would not talk to William and then makes the point stronger when William finds the note. It states he was afraid to read the whole note, but rather destroyed it (Welty, 169). If he had read the whole note he possibly would have noticed that the note was not finished (Welty, 188) and would have questioned whether she had followed through with the threat. Instead he ran out of the house to gather people to drag the river for her body. He first found his friend Virgil who had spent the night out with him.
His character is fairly well-developed in the story as he is portrayed as the loyal best-friend who will stand by his friend and help with whatever task is required of him including dragging the river. As the two were walking to find a net and to recruit other people to help in the search, they talked about how William and Hazel had met which indicated that the communication had not been perfect between them in the beginning, because she had not wanted to speak with him, but he had followed her home and insisted they talk (Welty, 170). He had stayed at the house for dinner and had enjoyed the meal, but indicated he had not liked her mother and in fact feared her from the very first meeting (Welty 170). She was portrayed as a lazy and harsh woman who “ate like a man” (Welty, 170).
When the two men had walked a ways they decided who they needed to recruit to help. Their choices for helpers add to the setting of the story by portraying the timeframe the story took place in. The two African American boys were referred to as “niggers” (Welty, 172). The character development of these two boys portrayed them as less intelligent boys, who talked constantly. The Doyles were the family who brought the dogs to the search. They were developed as quiet people, who had little to say. The Malone’s on the other hand were portrayed as loud and ill mannered people who only went on the search for the amount of fish they could catch.
Two small brothers join the party even though they are not big enough to contribute much to the search. The last character to be added to the search is called Doc. He was needed, because he was the man who owned the net (Welty, 173). He was referred to several times as the smartest of them. He was the only person who really seemed to question why they were in such a hurry to run down to drag the river when he had not even made sure she was in the river, which indicates he questions the communication between the two Wallaces (Welty, 174).
This leads to momentary doubt on William’s part, but he appears certain that if the note said she had jumped in the river, that was what she had done and he insists on the search. Doc goes along on the search for the entertainment value and makes the African American boys tow him in a boat. He spends the entire time spewing needless facts and information to the others.
During the search, the group encounters numerous animals in the river and takes time during the search first for Virgil to stop and argue with a man on the other side of the river about why he was there, then they stopped to cook fish and take naps, then to sit out a thunderstorm. The best use of imagery takes place during the thunderstorm scene as the colors of the storm clouds meet with the sun and how the trees and water looks as the storm moves in. There is a description of the thunder sounds and the look of the trees as they are struck by lightning and split in half (Welty, 183).
When they reach the end of the search and have not found her, the group returns to the village, where Hazel’s mother hears them talking about Hazel missing and becomes accusatory with William, which indicates additional problems with communication due to William’s fear of her. Each member of the party slowly returns home as does William to discover Hazel had never left the house and had actually been close enough to touch him while he was looking at her note.
This is where the greatest indicator of a communication problem is demonstrated, because Hazel had written the note to make William feel guilty about his misadventure rather than simply telling him how she had felt (Welty, 183). William in this passage spanked her and made her promise not to do it again and she then says she might do it again. The entire passage shows that the whole adventure and frantic search as well as Henry’s night out might all have been avoided if the couple had taken the time to develop positive communication in the beginning.
The story is in the third person, but it is told from William’s point of view. It goes tells how he felt about Hazel and how beautiful and smart she was. He compared her with other women based on intelligence and did not think she would do something like kill herself, but because they did not communicate well, he could not be sure of that. He knew she feared the water and thought that by drowning herself it would communicate her message of feeling betrayed even better than by committing suicide another way. The conflict of the story is mostly centered around the failed communication and the fact that William creates an entire search party because he and his wife have failed to communicate effectively.
The irony of the whole story is that he sets out on a search to find her, when she was close enough to touch him, but refused to talk to him. He wanted to save her, but left for a night because they could not talk to each other. One juxtaposition in the story would be the simple fact that although Hazel started out within arm’s reach of William he had to go on a long search to come around to finding her. This indicates that although she was within reach the communication gap made her out of reach until he had searched for her.
The overall tone of the story seems somewhat heavy and serious, but during the search the adventure seems almost lighthearted and comical. They find fish and eat and have numerous adventures, which make the story seem too light for a group of people frantically trying to find a drowned pregnant woman. The note in the story and in some ways even the net seem to symbolize the lack of communication. The not does this by showing that he only heard or read what he chose to and the net that would catch anything still did not solve the problem with communication. It was not until the very end of the story where William and Hazel finally talked to each other about the events did the communication problem seem to get resolved.
Welty, Eudora. “The Wide Net” (1909) The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.
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