The Hours | Study Guide

Michael Cunningham

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The Hours | Chapter 19 : Mrs. Brown | Summary

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Summary

Laura and Richie are at the dinner table celebrating Dan's birthday. Laura feels a rush of anger at her "coarse ... stupid" husband, with whom she's trapped in an artificial, suburban life. Somehow she must find a way to get through this life, "she must continue." Then her anger passes. Dan embraces her and tells her she's perfect. In her thoughts Laura describes Dan in extremely unattractive, even repellent, terms. Laura asks Richie if he, too, made a wish. He lies and says he did. Had he made a wish, it would have been for "more of what he's already got." Richie helps Dan cut the cake.

Laura gets dessert plates for the cake, and suddenly she feels as if she actually succeeded, as an artist might succeed by putting the perfect finishing touch to a painting. Everything seems right, even perfect, to Laura now. Her house is "full of the lives of her husband and son; full of the future." She senses that "a force that feels unambiguously like goodness has prevailed." She's sure Kitty will be all right.

But the moment and the feeling do not last. Laura thinks, "the page is about to turn." She smiles at Richie "serenely, from a distance. He smiles back ... He makes another wish."

Analysis

Laura is on an emotional roller coaster. At the beginning of the chapter she finds the mundanity of the birthday party infuriating. She feels trapped in her role as a wife, and the need to play this part angers her almost unendurably. When the anger passes, Laura feels she can and must bear her current life. She recognizes her husband is a good man, but the residue of discontent has her describe him as repellent.

Richie wants only continuance—of his mother's love, of the solidity of the family, of some semblance of security. He wants above all for his mother to be happy and present in her ordinary life, the life that includes and should nurture him.

For a brief period Laura is at home in the mundane, which briefly constitutes a life worth living, a meaningful life. But Laura's satisfaction and her perception of goodness in the world is an illusion that will soon fade. Only moments later, in fact, she feels the satisfaction passing. The change reveals itself when she reverts to her detached treatment of her son. She smiles at him "from a distance." She is no longer the contented housewife and mother wedded to her social role. Richie makes another wish; already he senses her indifference.

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