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The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary



John Dowell imagines himself unburdening his story to a "sympathetic soul." Later, he seems agitated that the reader does not answer him. "But you are so silent," he admonishes. John expresses uncertainty about how to tell the story, whether he should "tell the story from the beginning" in the traditional way, or whether to comment on it "from this distance of time."

John claims his "function in life was to keep that bright thing [Florence Dowell, his wife] in existence." He gives some personal background on her. Florence liked to travel but never to the same place twice. She liked to dance. She came from Stamford, Connecticut. She was not allowed to get too excited because "her little heart might cease to beat." As a young woman, Florence traveled around the world with her Uncle John Hurlbird. Uncle John was an eccentric man who brought crates of oranges with them on their sea voyage and handed them out to everyone he met. John inherits the Hurlbirds' money because Florence died five days after her uncle.


With his disjointed narrative, Ford Madox Ford engages with the modernist literary movement. John, the narrator, and Ford, the author, chose to comment on the story "from this distance of time," not from the beginning. The fractured narrative is meant to destabilize the reader and hints early on at John's status as an unreliable narrator. John addresses the reader directly, breaking the so-called fourth wall that keeps readers from remembering they are in a work of fiction. This is a metafictional technique used in some modernist works as a reminder that the reader is, indeed, reading a story.

John claims to want the reader to understand Florence's "bright" personality. Ford again explores the concept of shallowness in his characters as he shows Florence's interests are superficial. Meanwhile, John longs to live a deeper sort of life. This is exemplified in John and Florence's differing attitudes towards travel. John wishes to visit a place more than once, but Florence is satisfied by her first visit.

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