"I don't suppose I ought to say it about my own sister, but I never saw anybody look as beautiful as Ellie looked today. And always so sweet and unselfish, too. And you didn't even notice her. But you never pay attention to Ellie, anyway. Don't think I haven't noticed it. It makes me feel just terrible. It makes me feel just awful, that you don't like my own sister."
"I do so like her!" he said. "I'm crazy for Ellie. I think she's a great kid." (35-36)
Notice how quickly this snowballs: the husband said he didn't get a look at Ellie. His wife says that he didn't notice her because—in a quite possibly incorrect leap of inference—he doesn't like Ellie. In reality, she seems angry that he waxed poetic about how great Louise looked—and this accusation is really her reaction to that.
"I keep thinking, when we come back and get in the apartment and everything, it's going to be awfully hard for me that you won't want my own sister to come and see me. It's going to make it awfully hard for me that you won't ever want my family around. I know how you feel about my family. Don't think I haven't seen it. Only, if you don't ever want to see them, that's your loss. Not theirs. Don't flatter yourself!" (37)
The wife is probably anxious about other problems with the marriage—sexual problems, for one. She seems to be harping on whether or not her groom likes her fam instead of identifying the real problem.
"Oh, now, come on!" he said. "What's all this talk about not wanting your family around? Why you know how I feel about your family. I think your old lady—I think your mother's swell. And Ellie. And your father. What's all this talk?" (38)
This doesn't feel unconvincing (depending on your perspective). The husband almost calls the wife's mom her "old lady"—but that seems to be more of a colloquial slip than a sign of secret disrespect.
"Well, I've seen it," she said. "Don't think I haven't. Lots of people they get married, and they think it's going to be great and everything, and then it all goes to pieces because people don't like people's families, or something like that. Don't tell me! I've seen it happen!" (39)
Yet again, this seems to be a deflection from the real issue. It's not her husband's relationship with her family that the wife is worried about—it's really his relationship with her.
Nevertheless, eight minutes for the settling of two suitcases and a hatbox is a long time. (2)
This isn't necessarily a quote about "innocence"—but it is a quote about shyness or naivety or a general inability to deal with something, which are all related to innocence in a negative way. The husband is clearly avoiding interacting with his wife and facing their issues—indicates some immaturity on his part. "Immaturity" actually might be a more accurate way of describing this theme than "innocence."
She looked as new as a peeled egg. (3)
Parker's description of the wife emphasizes her immaturity and innocence. An egg is, by definition, embryonic. It's pure and unsullied, but also is a far cry from a sentient being.
She had been staring raptly out of the window, drinking in the big weathered signboards that extolled the phenomena of codfish without bones and screens no rust could corrupt. (4)
You can take this sentence as describing symbols of innocence or an artificial sort of purity. A screen that doesn't rust or a codfish without bones might be convenient in some way, but they sort of go against the natural order of things.
"Ah, baby. Baby lamb. We're not going to have any bad starts." (112)
The husband (somewhat condescendingly) refers to the wife as a "baby lamb"—a lamb is traditionally a symbol of innocence, youthfulness, vulnerability, etc. But there's a certain irony in his statement that they won't have any bad starts—since they're sort of already having a bad start. But we bet he's thinking mainly about the sexytimes ahead.
"…I thought, "Well I never thought Louise good look like that!" Why, she'd have knocked anybody's eye out."
"Oh, really?" she said. "Funny. Of course, everybody thought her dress and hat were lovely, but a lot of people seemed to think she looked sort of tired. People have been saying that a lot lately…" (30-31)
The wife's comment about Louise looking "tired" is really a defensive reaction to the husband's praise. What she's really saying is that she doesn't want her husband to think that Louise is better looking than her.
"It's too bad," she said, "you didn't marry somebody that would get the kind of hats you'd like. Hats that cost three ninety-five. Why didn't you marry Louise? You always think she looks so beautiful. You'd love her taste in hats. Why didn't you marry her?" (53)
The Louise thing is still gnawing on the wife, and the hat argument is really a way of returning to this unresolved issue. The wife still feels insecure, unsure of what her husband's attitude is toward her now that they're married. So, she's testing that out, in a (nasty) way.
"Why didn't you marry her?" she said. "All you've done, ever since we got on this train, is talk about her. Here I've sat and sat, and just listened to you saying how wonderful Louise is. I suppose that's nice, getting me all off here alone with you, and then raving about Louise right in front of my face. Why didn't you ask her to marry you? I'm sure she would have jumped at the chance. There aren't so many people asking her to marry them. It's too bad you didn't marry her. I'm sure you'd have been much happier." (55)
This blows up the husband's comments about Louise into a problem of vast proportions. The wife's simmering and perhaps accurate doubts about their marriage end up manifesting in a patently silly way.
"Listen, baby," he said, "while you're talking about things like that, why didn't you marry Joe Brooks? I suppose he could have given you all the twenty-two dollar hats you wanted, I suppose!"
"Well, I'm not so sure I'm not sorry I didn't," she said. "There! Joe Brooks wouldn't have waited until he got me all off alone and then sneered at my taste in clothes. Joe Brooks wouldn't ever have hurt my feelings. Joe Brooks has always been fond of me. There!" (56)
Yowch. It's pretty extreme to say you should have married someone else less than three hours after your wedding. But we can't take this that seriously—the wife is still fishing for some comfort, really, some security as to whether she made the right choice. She wants her husband to reassure her about marrying him.
"Listen," he said. "I don't want anything he gives you in our apartment. Anything he gives you, I'll throw right out the window. That's what I think of your friend Joe Brooks. And how do you know where he is and what he's going to do, anyway? Has he been writing to you?" (53)
The husband rises to the wife's bait and argues passionately with her. But maybe this is a good thing (from the wife's perspective)—he's demonstrating that he cares about her and doesn't want her to be corresponding with any dudes who might be interested. It shows he's attached to her.
"I suppose my friends can correspond with me," she said. "I didn't hear there was any law against that."
"Well, I suppose they can't!" he said. "And what do you think of that? I'm not going to have my wife getting a lot of letters from cheap traveling salesmen!" (61-62)
Basically, the comment on the last quote applies here. The husband's passion might (again, from the wife's perspective) be a good thing—it should make her feel more secure, in that she's married someone who cares about her (or, at least, cares enough to be jealous on occasion).
"Well, you certainly took an awful lot of notice of her today," she said. "On our wedding day! You said yourself when you were standing there in the church you just kept thinking of her. Right up at the altar. Oh, right in the presence of God! And all you thought about was Louise." (69)
The husband has a hard time explaining that this wasn't meant seriously—according to him, it was just a weird part of his train of thought. This is sort of believable though, because he mentioned it so guilelessly and didn't seem to realize that it would provoke any jealousy.
"Well!" the young man said.
"Well!" she said.
"Well, here we are," he said.
"Here we are," she said. "Aren't we?"
"I should say we were," he said. "Eeyop. Here we are."
"Well!' she said." (5-10)
They're having trouble figuring out what to say to one another, aren't they? So, they just make a lot of "sound and fury, signifying nothing"… like idiots, according to Shakespeare.
"But afterwards, it'll be alright. I mean. I mean—well, look, honey, you don't look any too comfortable." (42)
"I mean" is what the husband (and the wife) say when they're avoiding talking about sex. They say they mean something else—but what they really mean is sex, ironically enough. Jeez, these crazy kids are super-awkward.
"I know this is the new style and everything like that, and it's probably great. I don't know anything about things like that. Only I like the kind of a hat like that blue hat you had. Gee, I liked that hat."
"Oh, really?" she said. "Well, that's nice. That's lovely. The first thing you say to me, as soon as you get me off on a train away from my family and everything, is that you don't like my hat. The first thing you say to your wife is you think she has terrible taste in hats. That's nice, isn't it?" (48-49)
The husband decides to talk about a hat he really does like, which either gets misinterpreted or correctly interpreted as meaning he does not like the hat the wife does have—despite the fact that he says it's "probably great." That doesn't sound like a very strong, ringing endorsement of the hat—partly because he fails to pad his opinion sensitively enough, despite his best efforts.
"Listen, honey," he said, "I never should have said that. How does anybody know what kind of crazy things come into their heads when they're standing there waiting to get married? I was just telling you that because it was so kind of crazy. I thought it would make you laugh." (70)
The fact that the husband thought this would make his wife laugh demonstrates his general cluelessness. His wife thinks he said it with "malice and forethought"—but it really does seem to just be a product of his own obliviousness/mild insensitivity.
"Is there anything special you want to do tonight?"
"What?" she said.
"What I mean to say," he said, "would you like to go to a show or something?"
"Why, whatever you like," she said. "I sort of didn't think people went to theaters and things on their—I mean, I've got a couple of letters I simply must write. Don't let me forget."
"Oh," he said. "You're going to write letters tonight?" (78-82)
The wife wasn't expecting her husband to want to go to a show—since her "I mean" shows that she was assuming they would have sex. Confused, she throws out her own silly suggestion, throwing the husband off balance and showing that he was still assuming they would consummate the marriage (of course).
"There was a silence with things going on in it." (97)
This is the narrator's voice suddenly re-entering the story after a long absence. It's kind of cryptic: what exactly is going on in the silence? Probably just the fevered mechanics of their own sexually inexperienced minds, to be honest.
"I never said any such thing," he said. "You're crazy."
"All right, I may be crazy," she said. "Thank you very much. But that's what you said." (104-105)
The wife is still mad the husband said he didn't like her hat. He's claiming that he never said that, since he said it was "probably great." But "it's probably great" can sound pretty close to "it sucks" if you say it the right way. At any rate, it's a pretty petty point to dwell on.
"Not that it matters—it's just a little thing. But it makes you feel pretty funny to think you've gone and married somebody that says you have perfectly terrible taste in hats. And then goes and says you're crazy, beside."
"Now, listen here," he said. "Nobody said any such thing. Why, I love that hat. The more I look at it the better I like it. I think it's great." (105-106)
The husband's sudden change in opinion about the hat is obviously insincere and meant to get his wife to stop talking about it. But, clearly, it's a silly argument to prolong indefinitely.
"I love the damned hat. I mean, I love your hat. I love anything you wear. What more do you want me to say?"
"Well, I don't want you to say it like that," she said." (108-109)
The wife wants the husband to genuinely like her hat, and somehow convince her of it. But that's going to be pretty hard to prove at this point. (Of course, she probably really wants him to convince her that he loves her.)
"Yes, here we are," she said. "Aren't we?" (113)
As the story ends, the wife still isn't certain about whether they're really "here." "Here" isn't just a satisfying sex life—although it probably includes that. It's mainly a loving, contented, stable marriage. But whether these crazy kids have that is something that only time can reveal.
"Well!" he said. "Well. How does it feel to be an old married lady?"
"Oh, it's too soon to ask me that," she said. "At least—I mean. Well, I mean, goodness, we've only been married about three hours, haven't we?" (11-12)
Their marriage is in a state of total uncertainty right now. It's unclear how it will work out—though the story might give some hints.
"All mixed up, and then thinking of all those people all over everywhere, and then being sort of 'way off here with you. It's so sort of different. It's sort of such a big thing. You can't blame a person for thinking, can you? Yes, don't let's ever, ever fight. We won't be like a whole lot of them. We won't fight or be nasty or anything. Will we?"
"You bet your life we won't." (43-44)
This is totally ironic given that the husband and wife have nothing but petty arguments less than three hours after getting married.
"Here I've sat and sat, and just listened to you saying how wonderful Louise is. I suppose that's nice, getting me all off here alone with you, and then raving about Louise right in front of my face. Why didn't you ask her to marry you? I'm sure she would have jumped at the chance. There aren't so many people asking her to marry them. It's too bad you didn't marry her. I'm sure you'd have been much happier." (55)
The wife feels vulnerable and insecure being stuck with her husband, alone, away from her family. She evidently feels at the mercy of his whims and attachments, and wants to make sure that he has her best interests at heart—which is why she's accusing him of having a thing for Louise.
"We used to squabble a lot when we were going together and then engaged and everything, but I thought everything would be so different as soon as you were married. And now I feel so sort of strange and everything. I feel so sort of alone." (75)
All the wife's sources of security—her family and so on—have been stripped away, and now she has to face the totally new situation of living with her husband. This is probably the source of her feeling of loneliness—her vulnerability and exposure. If you don't really understand the person you're married to, it can feel like you're in the marriage alone (of course, they haven't been married for three hours, yet, so this is probably a premature reaction).
"Well, you see, sweetheart," he said, "we're not really married yet. I mean. I mean—well, things will be different afterwards. Oh, hell. I mean, we haven't been married very long." (76)
By "we're not really married yet" the husband means that they haven't consummated it yet—in case that wasn't clear. Also, we can't be sure if we believe his assurances that everything will be different afterwards—and neither can the wife, since this is the very thing that seems to be making her nervous.
"And we won't ever fight any more, will we?" he said.
"Oh, no," she said. "Not ever! I don't know what made me do like that. It all got so sort of funny, sort of like a nightmare, the way I got thinking of all those people getting married all the time; and so many of them, everything spoils on account of fighting and everything. I got all mixed up thinking about them. Oh, I don't want to be like them. But we won't be, will we?" (98-99)
The wife's question remains unanswered by the time the story ends. Will they be okay? The story has some ominous signs, but the years are the only thing that can reveal the real truth about their marriage.
"We won't go all to pieces," she said. "We won't fight. It'll all be different, now we're married. It'll all be lovely." (101)
This might just be wishful thinking, considering that they've fought throughout this entire story. That might get old after awhile.
"The nights are going to be pretty long from now on. I mean. I mean—well, it starts getting dark early." (18)
Obviously, this is a reference to sex—he clearly doesn't mean that the nights are going to get long because it "starts getting dark early." That would be pointlessly redundant. He means they are going to be up longer, "making the beast with two backs" (to quote Othello).
"Goodness, I don't see how people do it every day."
"Do what?" he said.
"Get married," she said. "When you think of all the people, all over the world, getting married just as if it was nothing. Chinese people and everybody. Just as if it wasn't anything."
"Well, let's not worry about people all over the world," he said. "Let's don't think about a lot of Chinese. We've got something better to think about. I mean. I mean—well, what do we care about them?" (19-22)
The blushing bride is essentially mind-blown by the fact that everyone does it. What she's talking about is sex, of course, but she uses the genteel shorthand of "getting married." This is kind of like the Cole Porter song that states "Let's do it… let's fall in love." Falling in love is not what that song is about, btw.
"I know," she said. "But I just sort of got to thinking of them, all of them, all over everywhere, doing it all the time. At least, I mean—getting married, you know. And it's well, it's sort of such a big thing to do, it makes you feel queer. You think of them, all of them, all doing it just like it wasn't anything. And how does anybody know what's going to happen next?" (23)
The fact that the wife says "I mean" shows that—like the husband—she's thinking about sex as well as marriage. The phrase "I mean" has the same symbolism in this story as a sock on a dorm room door… it means sexytimes (or at least the thought of sexytimes) is happening.
"We know darn well what's going to happen next. I mean. I mean—well, we know it's going to be great. Well, we know we're going to be happy. Don't we?"
"Oh, of course," she said. "Only you think of all the people, and you have to sort of keep thinking. It makes you feel funny. An awful lot of people that get married, it doesn't turn out so well. And I guess they all must have thought it was going to be great." (24-25)
The wife's marital/sexual anxieties don't go away—they'll continue bugging her for the rest of the story. Also, it's hard to disentangle to what extent she's worried about the specifically sexual part and to what extent she's worried about continuing to fight and bicker.
"You know, lots of times," he said, "they say that girls get kind of nervous and yippy on account of thinking about—I mean. I mean—well, it's like you said, things are all sort of mixed up and everything, right now. But, afterwards, it'll be all right. I mean. I mean—well, look honey, you don't look any too comfortable." (42)
The husband seems to guess what's going on—though he doesn't seem preoccupied with his wife's larger concerns about marriage. He's just hoping that finally having sex will help put his wife's mind to rest about these things.
"And when you've finished writing your letters," he said, "maybe I could get you a magazine or a bag of peanuts."
"What?" she said.
"I mean," he said, "I wouldn't want you to be bored."
"As if I could be bored with you!" she said. "Silly! Aren't we married? Bored!" (84-87)
Even though the wife is talking about writing letters, and that's ostensibly what the husband says he wouldn't want her to be "bored" doing, it's pretty obvious—given the greater context of these comments—that they're still talking about sex.
"I thought when we got in, we could go right up to the Biltmore and anyway leave your bags, and maybe have a little dinner in the room, kind of quiet, and then do whatever we wanted. I mean. I mean—well, let's go right up there from the station." (88)
This is yet another example of "I mean—" code for talking about sex.
"I always sleep so well there. I go right off to sleep the minute I put my head on the pillow."
"Oh, you do?" he said.
"At least, I mean," she said. "Way up high it's so quiet." (89-90)
Like the boredom comments, this is another joke about how the wife won't actually be going to sleep instantly (the husband hopes), since they won't be sleeping right away. They'll getting to "know" one another… in the Biblical sense.
"Ah, baby. Baby lamb. We're not going to have any bad starts. Look at us—we're on your honeymoon. Pretty soon we'll be regular old married people. I mean. I mean, in a few minutes we'll be getting in to New York, and then we'll be going to the hotel, and then everything will be all right. I mean—we'll, look at us! Here we are married! Here we are!" (112)
The husband seems to think that they really are "here"—meaning, in a marriage that's going to be pretty good and satisfying for all involved. But, as the story ends, the wife still isn't sure. Or maybe she's just crazy-nervous.