Literature Study GuidesThe BearSection 2 Money Summary

The Bear | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Bear | Section 2 (Money) | Summary

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Summary

Luka re-enters the room and says that a man named Grigory Smirnov is waiting for Elena Popova in the dining room and refuses to leave. Popova is upset by this sudden intrusion of her solitude. Luka fetches Smirnov at her command and brings Smirnov before her. Smirnov introduces himself as a "landowner and retired lieutenant of artillery." He informs her that her husband Nicolai Mihailovitch purchased oats from him and now has two outstanding bills. The debt is significant enough that Smirnov cannot cover the interest on his mortgage unless Popova pays the overdue bills. Smirnov has already been to a few other debtors who have all refused to pay him. Popova represents his last chance to recoup his losses.

Popova reminds Luka to give Toby more oats. Luka leaves. Popova then tells Smirnov that she has no cash on hand, but she promises that her steward will gather the necessary funds when he returns the day after tomorrow. She explains she is not in the right state of mind to discuss financial matters with Smirnov because it is the seven-month anniversary of her husband's death. Smirnov argues that his financial responsibilities are more important than her current emotional state. He insists that the debt must be paid today. Popova insists that she cannot pay him because she does not currently have the money. Smirnov rails against the irresponsibility of others. Popova is offended by his tone and leaves the room.

Analysis

The first interactions between Grigory Smirnov and Elena Popova appear to be a collision of the ruthlessly practical and the deeply emotional. Smirnov is on a practical errand motivated by physical needs. He has to pay his interest on his mortgage or else he will lose his farm. He is a farmer, so if he loses his farm, he will also lose his livelihood. He presents his request for payment as a logical proposition unconnected to emotion. Smirnov is polite, but he has no interest in pandering to Popova's emotional vulnerability if it means sacrificing his farm. Popova uses a blend of logic and emotion in her appeal, but she places the most emphasis on her emotional state. She believes it is inconsiderate for him to interrupt her mourning for something as cold and emotionless as money.

As Smirnov and Popova continue to argue, Smirnov's own emotional side begins to come out. Smirnov recognizes that he is angry, but he claims that he has logical reasons behind his frustration. He then launches into a dramatic retelling of his travails up to this point. He becomes increasingly agitated to the point where he shouts at Popova. His former display of cordiality is completely gone. He acts on his emotions just like Popova. However, he still believes that Popova is the person who is acting unreasonably and values her emotions over reason. He does not recognize that he has allowed his own feelings to seize control of the encounter.

Men and women were held to different standards when it came to both public and private behavior in the 19th century. Men were supposed to be rational, logical individuals who had a steady command over their feelings. The suggestion that a man was acting emotional was generally viewed as an insult. Women by contrast were viewed as almost solely emotional beings who were incapable of the same logical reasoning exhibited by men. Smirnov dismisses Popova's argument that she does not have the money to pay him and instead decides she is acting out of emotional pique and nothing more. He believes she could solve the problem if she wished, but she prefers to punish him for her own emotional satisfaction. Smirnov never considers the idea that Popova may be physically incapable of paying her husband's debt at that exact moment. He prefers to see her as someone driven by an irrational "state of mind" than accept that he made a mistake by waiting to make his request until there is no time for Popova to gather her resources.

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