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The Cost of Things
By Elizabeth Harrower
In The Cost of Things, we are introduced in the first line to the main character, Dan Freeman, who, as we discover throughout the proceeding paragraphs, is somewhat spitefully frugal. He resentful at the cost of his house (that he hasn t yet paid for) and dislikes his own children, as they haven t gone without in, what appears to Dan as, a time of need.
The significance of the title becomes apparent. Dan seems to be unsympathetic towards his children, Bill and Laura, as he remarks to his wife Mary; These two will end up in a factory if they re not careful They re irresponsible. If they knew what a depression was like
However, Dan s malice is not only reserved for his children, he implies that in someway Mary is partly to blame for their behaviour (Bill and Laura are quite innocently fulfilling their roles as children). You encourage them to want impossible things. Why? To turn me into a villain when I refuse? Once again, when Bill and Laura are denied grown-up toys , Dan justifies it, They ll end up bus conductors if they re not careful.
While we are quick to judge Dan Freeman for the unacceptable treatment of his family, we learn the reasons why he might be acting this way. Dan has just returned from a transfer in Sydney. We question what happened in Sydney for him to behave in this manner. Mary, an excellent cook, has outdone herself and, trying to please her husband, explains, I experimented while you were away. Dan laughs this off, and, as if in a bragging-pubescent-boy tone he hears another voice in his head reply smartly, So did I! So did I!
It seems Dan s distraction at the dinner table is caused by memories of an affair in Sydney with a woman named Clea. While he hadn t trusted himself in the previous weeks of his return to Melbourne, Dan begins to reminisce now (inappropriately during dinner with his wife).
Dan s affair in Sydney is quite possibly a consequence of his life in Melbourne. The return to the frustration of his mundane and suburban middle-class existence appears to be the cause of his preoccupation. However, Dan has no one else to blame for being unnecessarily bothered by these thoughts of Sydney. After all, the fling is somewhat exaggerated in his own deluded mind.
He set about tracking down her face, methodically collecting her features and firmly assembling them. The results were static portraits of no one in particular, faded and distant. These faces were curiously, painfully undisturbing, as meaningless as the dots on a radar screen to an untrained observer. (p.288-289)
How meaningful had this affair with Clea been if he couldn t even see her face in his memories? The fact that Dan can t remember hints that he doesn t want to remember (is this why he could not guarantee the behaviour of his mind?), that he was foolish for considering leaving his family, home, job etc. He had an idealistic perspective of his relationship with Clea and thought that with her, he would find the circumstances he had always expected. They would live somewhere, and be very happy
However, we suspect this is not how Clea views this fleeting romance. While Dan can fool himself that the relationship will survive, Clea is hesitant to agree. Not only is she ridiculed for being unable to cook impressive meals for her lover (as his wife does exceptionally), Clea examines the hand-knitted sweater that Dan is wearing and realises instantly that she could never become a housewife nor replace Dan s wife, Mary, You re beginning to think about your old clothes and family holidays. These intimate little things are what count in the end, aren t they?
Clea s inadequacies can possibly be seen as the demise of the affair. Dan says to Clea in an intimate moment, Marriage. And you re so independent. What could it give you? Really? Clea smiles and says to Dan (to his annoyance), Someone to set mouse traps and dispose of the bodies. She finds his friends boring and the suburban life (that goes with becoming his wife) oppressing she is portrayed as a free spirit that never wants to step into the role society has forced upon her. With this realisation, Dan leaves, Well good night Clea!
Dan is secretly pleased to return to normal life. He has a rather melodramatic and childish argument with Mary (which is similar to one Clea had with him). Noticing the uncharacteristic behaviour of her husband, Mary cries and orders Dan to lie down while she phones Dr.Barnes. As Mary is on the telephone Dan smiles to himself – because there is a sense of comfort and love for his wife s concern. As he had thought previously, it was cheaper and less worrying to be: home.