The Yearning for Companionate Marriage: A Critical Reading and Chinese Translation of Theodore Dreiser’s “Free” and “Marriage—For One”
Liu, Yi Ping
In this thesis, I choose to study Theodore Dreiser, whose “Free” and “Marriage—For One” reveal a longing for sentimental closeness between partners in the name of companionate marriage. On the one hand, I translate the two literary texts into Chinese by following similar language style used in the original work. On the other hand, I posit that 19th-century middle class faced with a dilemma between marriage as a result of interested motive, such as wealth, social position, or other advantages and marriage as a result of a predominantly affectionate outpouring of impulse. Companionate marriage is the movement from individualistic liberty and romantic possibility to social propriety and moral responsibility. Moreover, I argue that whilst late-19th-century middle class announced that passionless marriage was a tragedy, contemporaneous Free Lovers rejected marriage because it bears so important public judgment and status for women such as economic support, assistance, or respectability that women’s true independence necessitates an opposition to marriage.
Then, I examine “Free” and “Marriage—For One” in my thesis. “Free” features 19th-century middle-class men’s and women’s struggle to become a unique individual who enters a marital structure, not as an object of luck, fate, chemistry, determinism, parents’ interference, or compulsory social obligations, but as a subject. What I find is that the male protagonist, Haymaker, is sandwiched between his longing for conjugal love and an essential prosaicness of his marriage.
In “Marriage—For One,” Dreiser portrays what he believes to be the very core component in the newlyweds’ dissonance: the wife, Bessie, is more liberalized and goes so far as to reject her husband’s preference for her stagnation in a more innate, inactive, and unchanged state of simple-mindedness. The title of the short story echoes the husband’s expectations of a closed marriage for life with complete emotional exclusiveness that in actuality destroys the promise of forming a marital relation on the basis of free, individual choice.
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