The Dowry A Prose Analysis The meaning of a dowry is the property that a wife or wife’s family gives to the husband upon marriage. In certain societies the dowry formed a part of an exchange of wealth between intermarrying families; it was often accompanied by some payment made by the groom to the bride’s family, called the bride-price. 1 In Indonesia we are more familiar with the term in our language “mas-kawin”. Dowry is closer in meaning to Padangnese custom.
Although recognized in common law, and often forming an important element in the arrangement known as a marriage settlement in the United Kingdom, the dowry is almost unknown in the United States. In most countries, it constitutes a distinct and important form of property. The dowry is given to the husband, who has exclusive control and administration of it during marriage, to be employed in defraying the expenses of the family. The dowry may also serve as insurance against bad treatment of the wife by the husband; it must be forfeited to the wife or wife’s family in case of divorce.
The wife may not deprive the husband of its control, and he, on the other hand, is bound to protect the property that he receives as dowry. 2 The characters in Dowry are telling traits (behavior or personalities) (characterization by the author). They both are flat characters meaning that their characterization stays the same from the beginning to the end. Simon Lebrument, the groom, is a handsome man, stylish (in a provincial way or unsophisticated) but for the town of Boutigny’s standard he is stylish indeed. He is also a practicing lawyer who had bought a private practice of Papillon in Paris.
Jeanne Cordier is graceful and fresh-looking although a trifle awkward (the author, Guy de Maupassant could be subtracting Cordier’s grace a little). Then, he adds that she is a handsome girl (a dated term applied to a woman who is also very well-groomed and from an upper class background). 3 She is a catch because she has three hundred thousand francs in currency and in bonds (around 45734. 7 Euro). It is a perfect match on paper, so the wedding commenced. Up to here it is safe to say that the writer is finishing his exposition of the characters.
The setting of Dowry is a mirror of prevailing mood. Maupassant was really clever in reflecting the mood of different events in the prose. In the beginning, the marriage of the young couple is described as turning Boutigny topsy-turvy. The following domestic felicity is very happy indeed. Jeanne adores her husband, Simon, the happy groom that he is, caresses his wife from morning to night and night to morning. The scene where the young couple boards the train also reflects an anxiety any parents have. Father Cordier asks Simon if his actions carrying the lump sum dowry is prudent.
The boarding of the train seems rushed. The one hour journey is also hastened by the presence of the two old ladies which prevents the couple to say little to each other. I think Moupassant describes the suspense part of the plot right from when Simon asks Jeanne to get the dowry to after the couple get off the train. It has a feeling of rushed and not very well planned especially by Jeanne Cordier. Maybe, that’s how Simon Lebrument work. He surely has dishonest intentions but cleverly he is able to mask it with his imminent purchase of a law practice.
In another part of the prose, Maupasssant frames Jeanne Cordier as a naive, small city minded lady, who is used to the straight-forward life. The setting in which Jeanne Cordier is cast simultaneously paired with Simon Lebrument’s big city mentality. Simon even talk Jeanne into saving a penny or two when they get on an omnibus instead of a taxi. The big city mold rolls over small city mold so smoothly that Jeanne is left befuddled on the bus’ final destination, Vaugirard. That sense of helplessness leaves Jeanne Cordier with the only way she can find shelter, her cousin Barral’s house.
All the questions that pop up in her mind can now, probably be answered. With enough money to take a cab, Jeanne escapes her difficult situation into a safe, family setting. Right after she step off the cab she couldn’t help but pour all of her problems out to Henry Barral. The setti ng in front of Henry’s house must be safe enough in the morning before people go to work, because there is where Jeanne pour her heart out. Maupassant ends Jeanne’s troubles by having Henry push her gently to the vestibule of his house. Lead her up the stairs to meet his maid Henry orders his servant, Sophie to fetch two lunch from the estaurant because he’s not going to the office that day. A conflict is very quickly presented to the couple right after they arrive in Paris. It is an external conflict between Lebrument and Cordier. To take the omnibus or to take the cab. As a young woman, Jeanne is prudent to want to take a cab because they are carrying the dowry and the travel luggage. It is a sign of Victorian virtue for a woman to agree to the husband. Jeanne after being scolded smilingly agrees to Simon in saving money by taking an omnibus. If I were Jeanne, I would brought up the large sum of money Simon had with him.
Is it wise saving five times six cents to losing three hundred thousand francs? A smoking excuse made it easy for Simon to board the omnibus and to ride on top. Again Jeanne can also go on top on the next stop but she does not. Jeanne has a lot of reasons to change seats in the omnibus. Her heart and mind also speaks to her loudly. But the conditions inside the omnibus seems to stupefy her. Her sense of smell is attacked by the fat man who smells cheap tobacco and an old woman who smells of garlic. Her sight registers a collection of caricatures being jolted inside the wagon looking stupefied.
Her mind begins to question why hadn’t her husband come inside with her. I think Jeanne is a woman with a trusting personality or even naive. If she were not, she should ask the conductor right away to stop at her destination, which is the Boulevard des Italiens. It is safer to hold on to the man you love, I think is the safest action that she could have taken. It must be a terrifying feeling to be Jeanne Cordier when she realizes that the top of the omnibus is empty. The conductor doesn’t even try to comfort her. He says those harsh words that her husband has gotten rid of her and laughs.
An Inspector (police, I presume) hears her crying out loud and assesses the situation but only to say that it is nothing, Jeanne should go about her business. This surely is the climax of the plot. Maupassant has another idea, he wants Jeanne to walk or to find a comforting voice. Jeanne Cordier gathers her confused self, spends her last francs and takes a cab to her cousin, Henry Barral. She catches him on time before him leaving to the office. The setting of the conversation between Jeanne and Henry is in front of Henry’s house but Henry’s attitude is so different than Simon’s.
There is no rushing, Henry is so thoughtful, patient and clear minded. It is as if Guy is rebuilding a calmer suspense sequence contrasting the suspense he has in the beginning of the prose. Henry, in contrast to the conductor, tells Jeanne the worst case scenario without belittling her. Now, Jeanne could say the ugly truth to herself and her cousin before fainting to Henry’s shoulder and wept. A comforting resolution in the form of an open ending. An open ending that makes this short story a classic. Dowry is told in the third-person point of view because Guy uses the characters as subjects of most of the sentences.
The style of this prose is part formal language (Dowry is originally written in French, therefore I presume translated into English), and part dialogues. The plot in the Dowry is linear and chronological, it makes for a clear, quick reading. The characters are deceivingly complex, as Simon Lebrument isn’t involved in the climax and resolution, even though he is a master manipulator. The theme of this prose is that innocence when confronted with a manipulative character ends up in exploitation of both riches and in trust.
Maybe, a form of education is also introduced here. Any would be married couple should make sure that the base or foundation of the marriage is solid and the relationship is based on mutual affection and need. Love alone may not be enough to have a good marriage, and Jeanne Cordier is proof of that. Reference: 1, 2. Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. 3. http://www. urbandictionary. com/define. php? term=Handsome%20Woman 4. Minderop, Albertine. Metode Karakterisasi Telaah Fiksi, Edisi 1, Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 2005.