The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 3, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

As John Dowell ponders whether an "analysis of [his] own psychology matters at all to this story," he concludes that it does not. He then explains that after Florence Dowell died, he felt like he had a dual personality. Leonora Ashburnham tells him he can now marry Nancy Rufford, and he protests that he had never had such a thought. Apparently he had remarked this very thing to Leonora, though he claims not to remember doing so. John says it was only after Edward Ashburnham had been dead for over a week that Leonora finally revealed Florence had been her husband's mistress. Leonora also comments, "it was stupid for Florence to commit suicide." John expresses ignorance of this fact. He truly thought she had died of heart failure. However, Leonora reveals that the bottle John thought was Florence's heart medicine was actually poison. Leonora says Florence was determined to use it if John ever found out about her affair with Jimmy.

John describes what Florence saw before her death, as explained to him by Edward. Edward and Nancy sat on a bench outside and he told her she was "the person he cared most for in the world." John imagines it was horrible for Florence to overhear but "she deserved what she got." At one point, when commenting on why Edward may have loved Nancy, John says: "We all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist." John excuses Edward's behavior, saying Edward "had no idea at all of corrupting" Nancy. After Florence's death, John feels unburdened and light. He returns to the United States in hopes of making himself appealing to Nancy.

Analysis

Considering that John is an unreliable, rambling narrator, it would be helpful for the reader to know more about his psychological makeup, though John concludes it is irrelevant. As it is, John is relatively faceless. While he describes the other characters in great detail, he never gives a physical description of himself. Similarly, he gives the impression through his narration that he is benign, long-suffering, and extraordinarily composed. Except for the incident with Julius in Part 2, Chapter 1, John never shows strong emotion of any kind, not even when Florence commits suicide or Edward cuts his own throat in front of him. In this chapter Leonora casually reveals Florence's affair with Edward, and John can "remember no emotion of any sort." John also seems remarkably trusting. He admits the reader might think him "lacking in suspiciousness" or, more harshly, "an imbecile."

But who is John really, and what is his motivation for telling his story? John's comment about outside assurance of worthiness may be a clue as to his motivation. He tells the story to, he hopes, a sympathetic reader as a way to give himself value. Florence certainly never valued him. In fact, John realizes Florence was simply "a personality of paper," that is, she pretended to be a "a real human being" but "she wasn't real." What John means is Florence held too tightly to the illusion of perfection and was not able to accept her imperfect real feelings. This prevented her from ever letting anyone get close to her. In contrast, by telling his story disjointedly, as a real person would, John reveals himself to be imperfect and therefore real.

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