Friday, June 14, 2013

"Flower Garden"

"Flower Garden"
from The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson

A thoroughly unsatisfying (not-so-)short story.  ...I just don't even want to bother writing a reaction to it.  It's dismal. 

The first however-much of the story, I felt sorry for "Young" Mrs. Winning.  She seems worked to the bone (doing the most boring household chores and not much else), is not particularly valued (except as a thoroughly respectable member of a thoroughly respectable family in the small community), and lives under the constant supervision of her mother-in-law.  In short, she's stuck in a drab life with no prospects for improvement.  She doesn't want for food or shelter-- she has a husband and children-- but her life lacks the richness of stimulation and joy. 

Then Mrs. MacLane moves into Mrs. Winning's old dream home-- just down the road-- and becomes a friend.  Mrs. Winning lives vicariously through Mrs. MacLane as the latter enjoys the freedoms and pleasures of a charming little cottage where she can do things up just as she likes.  Soft, pretty colors everywhere.  Fresh curtains.  A new garden with flowers on all four sides of the house.  Mrs. MacLane generously shares the beauty of her life, and Mrs. Winning seems to blossom and brighten a little under her friend's influence.

And then all the unpleasantness happens, and Mrs. Winning is stuck with (what seems to be) an impossible decision.  If she maintains her friendship with Mrs. MacLane, her respectability and standing in the community will be permanently damaged-- and one can only imagine how miserable her mother-in-law (and husband, probably, assuming he ever speaks to her) will make life for her... But if she cuts Mrs. MacLane out of her life, she'll be back where she started and she'll have hurt her new friend.  In the end, when she realizes that she sounds like her mother-in-law and (worse still) is taking a perverse enjoyment from Mrs. MacLane's confusion and pain-- when she turns her back on a friend in need of comfort-- you realize that it's simply too late for her.  She's already turned into her mother-in-law. 

It's a miserable ending, all 'round.  Mrs. Winning has revealed her true colors and is doomed to spend the rest of her life in a house that will never really be hers-- in a life that will never be what she once wanted for herself.  Mrs. MacLane will move back to the city, wounded... possibly embittered.  No more flower gardens for her.  And the family she'd wanted to help will be right back where they were before-- maybe even worse off after this added scandal.  (And nothing remotely scandalous even happened.)

Not a mood-booster, in other words.  ;o)