What is it about female relationships that makes them so complicated? How can two best friends quickly become enemies? Women, more so than men, have a tendency to hide their true feelings, creating tension and resentment that damage their friendships. From an early age, girls feel unspoken rivalries that only escalate throughout their lives. Envying another girl’s new pair of shoes eventually turns into coveting her career or fiancé. Once the delicate balance between friendship and rivalry is disturbed, feelings of jealousy and hatred will emerge to destroy the relationship.
Edith Wharton’s short story “Roman Fever” depicts the dynamic between two life-long friends as they reminisce about their youth. The events in the plot gradually undermine their close friendship, exposing their true feelings about each other and the hidden secrets of their past. Through character contrast, inner dialogue, and scenic descriptions, Wharton conveys the envy, hatred, and deception that exist below the surface of their relationship. Underneath the women’s superficial conversation and pleasant memories, the author proves that their friendship is actually a façade for a life-long rivalry.
Edith Wharton creates a contrast between the two protagonists, Alida Slade and Grace Ansley, in order to lay the foundation for their mutual jealousy and resentment. At the beginning of the story, the two characters are grouped together as typical middle-aged women, knitting and appreciating the view from the terrace of a restaurant. The author notes the difference in their physical appearance –Grace is smaller and paler, while Alida is fuller and darker; however, she places more emphasis on the women’s conversation and the description of their surroundings.
As the plot continues, the distinction between Alida and Grace grows increasingly apparent, hinting at a disconnect between them. Alida Slade is energetic and forward, initiating the exchanges with Grace and failing to control her emotional outbursts. Her lack of tact is apparent in that way that she “simply cannot bear it any longer” and bluntly confesses to Grace that she wrote her a fake love letter from her fiancé Delphin. Grace Ansley, on the other hand, is far more composed and inhibited, appearing to be “far less sure than her companion.” Though the narrator suggests that Grace is weak, she demonstrates her inner strength by maintaining a “voluntary controlled mask” and continuing to knit. In addition, her detached responses to Alida’s instigating remarks highlight her friend’s immaturity and pettiness. She is able to use her composure in order to manipulate Alida, making her feel guilty about despising a life-long friend for so many years.
The effect of the differences between the two characters can be seen in the development of their life-long rivalry. Both Alida and Grace were in love with Delphin when they were young; however, he chose to marry Alida and left Grace with the single memory of a night with...