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«The Lost Phoebe» is one of the short stories of Theodore Dreiser, who is famous as the writer-realist. The plot of the text centers around Henry Reifsneider, whose wife dies. In due course the lonely man becomes mad and starts to search for his wife. This search brings him to the death. The subject matter of the story is the spiritual loneliness of a person. Here we deal with the man-against-himself (internal) conflict. That is between the wish to find his wife and the impossibility to do this.
It should be noted the story begins with the exposition. Dreiser plunges the reader into the sever reality with decrepit houses and deaths. He gives detailed description of the house in which Henry and his wife live. The house was old and mildewy … high and wide and solid built, but faded looking, and with a musty odor. There are also references to the cherry wood. Maybe that is a case of allusion which hints at Chekhov's «The cherry orchard», where the cherry orchard is something valuable that
comes to desolation. The creaky wooden loom like a dusty bony skeleton, a worm-eaten clothes press, broken-down furniture were also a part of the house.
In the exposition we also get some information about the members of Henry's family. It appears to me the complication is: «A certain combination of furniture … gave him an exact representation of Phoebe … Could it be she – or her ghost?» This rhetorical question and doubt are the beginning of the madness. The climax is left in the sentence: «He had been expecting and dreaming of his hour all these years … Of a sudden there came to him … the full charm of her girlish
figure». The denouement is: «Oh, Phoebe! Don't leave me!»
It should be noted the name «Phoebe» means moon, the image of which becomes the leitmotif of the story.
At night a person usually stays alone and the moon gives dim light which creates favorable atmosphere for imagination. The use of colors «green» and «silver» is also likely to be symbolic: «Braches ornamented with green lichens greenish-whit, silvery effect in moonlight, Green County, silver disk», etc. Green is the color of hope, that is a hope to find the spiritual partner. Silver is the color of secret, magic.
As for the relationship, old Henry and Phoebe Ann were attached to each other. The following sentences are the evidence of this fact: «The great world sounds widely, but it has no call for them». «Old Henry and his wife Phoebe were as fond of each other as it is possible for two old people, who have nothing else in this life to be fond of.» «If she wanted a pail of water, it was a grumbling pleasure for him to get it; and if she did rise first to build the fires, he saw that the wood
was cut and placed within easy reach. They divided this simple world nicely between them.»
They had nothing, but each other; there was mutual understanding, sympathy, and love between them. So they needed no one else. That's why the lost Phoebe becomes an ordeal for Henry. His neighbors wished to help, but they couldn't provide him with deep understanding, spiritual support, that's why he rejected their help, started to become mentally ill. But this process is long, it takes many years. At first Henry sees the image of a middle-aged woman. That means his consciousness doesn't loose touches with reality.
But his mind degrades and he becomes totally mad. He goes to his own world where he meets young Phoebe, attracting him.
So the idea is – the impossibility to find a spiritually close person leads to the loss of sense of life.
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