Deciding to stay married

I would like to invite you to read a short story recently posted as an e-paper on Dialogue Paperless. Titled “The Newlyweds,” it has been written by joshua foster (who prefers not to capitalize his name). It is our first venture with fiction on Dialogue Paperless. You can access this story at the Dialogue website by clicking on the e-papers icon.

It is a story about two high school students who have to get married. The young woman has a miscarriage while they are on a brief honeymoon, and they settle down to a marriage that the young man isn’t sure he wants. They move into a shabby apartment and get poorly paid jobs without much of a future. Almost immediately the husband becomes fascinated by a tawdry woman in the apartment just across the hall, going so far as to attempt–quite disastrously, as it turns out–to steam open some of her mail, which she has asked the young couple to pick up while she is out of town for a week.

The story is set in Idaho. It’s not long, and it reads easily. It strikes me as an entirely realistic study in the dynamics of a premature marriage. In my judgment, it demonstrates a considerable sophistication in the art of fiction. If you would care to read it, I would be interested in your response to the following comment.

The story ends as the young man throws a can of green peas across the parking lot of the store where he works the night shift. He then goes home to crawl into bed with his slumbering wife, resolved to make a go of the marriage. There’s no explicit declaration of his intention to be faithful to his wife–just that act of throwing a can of green peas across a parking lot, amid such circumstances that it serves as a symbol. I happen to think that the thrown can is an intentional symbol on foster’s part although intentionality isn’t necessarily important in the function of a symbol. I would be interested in what other readers think about it. Do you agree that the thrown can works as a symbol and, if so, does it achieve the effect that I ascribe to it?


  1. Latter-day guy says:

    Yes on both counts. The color green is significant: peas, Jenn, envy/betrayal. Clever story.

  2. I like the story for the most part. I think there are some ambiguities that are not working, but I agree that the author successfully makes the color green a symbol for Jenn and that the act of throwing the peas is clearly a symbol for the character throwing away the temptation and preoccupation of his thoughts for Jenn. It’s not an obvious symbol of recommitment to Kendra, but his feelings for her are clear in the way the story ends.

  3. I think it’s effective, and is well-reflective of where he is at in life.

  4. Levi Peterson says:

    Thanks for your comments. I am personally interested in the topic of symbolism in literature if for no other reason than that an unnamed literary critic, reviewing my novel Aspen Marooney in the Deseret News, disparaged the too obvious signification of a partially eaten apple that is mentioned two or three times in the course of the novel. I certainly agree that it is easy for a writer to overdo symbol.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    What does making out “dirty style” mean? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that expression before. (Possibly a making out equivalent of “dirty dancing”?)

  6. Levi, I still love to go back and read Nabokov talking about Bend Sinister and the kidney-shaped puddle outside his window. I think that sense of connections that symbolism, carefully done, can evoke is quite inspiring. It strikes me as a more sanitary version of the metaphysical law of correspondences.

  7. Kevin: I wondered the same thing. Must be an Idaho thing. Any spuds out there want to clear it up for us?

  8. Excellent story. Thanks for pointing it out.

    As for the relative “obviousness” of symbol… it strikes me that symbolism can be “obvious and literary” (i.e. intentionally obvious and deftly executed), or “obvious and amateur” (i.e. not intentional; author doesn’t know what s/he is doing). In other words, the success or failure of literary symbolism is more about its execution than where it falls on the “subtle-to-obvious” spectrum.

  9. Insofar as the can of pea is a symbol, it assumes meaning in the context of the young man’s action.

    The latter is the real symbol: a mildly violent act to cut through one’s cluttered mind and desires. The peas are just decoration.

  10. Not sure about the throwing part, but the green peas seem intentionally symbolic.

    Sure, green is the color of Jen’s eyes, but why green? I think it’s an intentional choice by the author because it indexes the traditional “grass is always greener” motif. That’s why Chad’s dreams of another life were all colored in green. And I think that the author acknowledges that the grass is not greener when Chad notices Jen’s dingy teeth, etc. (BTW, I think we also see the green motif in the frozen broccoli that the mother-in-law is pressing against his head).

    And why peas? Doesn’t the author first introduce the miscarriage as a “pee test?”

    I think the throwing of the can is Chad’s gesture of moving on, throwing away the pain of the miscarriage and chucking his self-inflicted anguish (i.e. requesting to spend time in the grass is always greener section of the store).– although maybe it’s just an expression of frustration with these two things and he’s not really moving on at all — but I definitely think that the symbolism is intentional.

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