Gallant points up the inner conflict of her protagonist, who is caught between antithetical perceptions of love, by employing a pervasive pattern of opposites. The two time sequences reveal this pattern: The past is characterized by the bleakness and darkness of winter; the current time sequence by the buds and light of spring, the advent of which is “like coming out a tunnel.” The past episodes show Carol consciously striving for romance and are set against the immediate incident that reveals her confronting the possibility of romantic love without deliberately seeking it.
Gallant’s characterization also exhibits the counterpointing principle at work. Although Odile, who has romance, worries about financial security, Carol, who is materially comfortable, yearns for romance. Odile’s stock observations of New York are compared with Carol’s fixed expectations of Paris. Also, Felix is a perfect foil to Howard.
A subtler form of contrast that helps to keep before the reader Carol’s fluctuation between reality and fancy is that between the actual and the desired suggested by the frequent use of “as if” constructions. At one point, for example, the narrator says: “Her heart leaped as if he, Felix, had said he loved her.” There are at least a dozen such phrasings in the story.
The story constantly and subtly shifts between two voices, Carol’s and the omniscient narrator’s, which offer contrasting perceptions of Carol’s experiences. The protagonist’s assessment of herself is narrow; the narrator’s of her is inclusive. Carol’s elicits sympathy; the narrator’s is occasionally ironic but never mocking, for the narrator recognizes the honesty as well as the limits of Carol’s self-assessment and makes the reader aware that she is no worse than the other characters, such as Odile, who is biased in her view of others, has questionable expectations, and compromises as well.
This is an early Gallant story, but her skills as a short-story writer are recognizable. Besides this appropriate pattern of opposites, there are her graphic but economical portrait of postwar Paris, her structural skill, her subtle tone, and her grasp of the complex and the elusive in examining the individual’s ordinary experiences.
The Other Paris - Mavis Gallant Prose Analysis
There are many areas of society that people look back on and laugh at. In Mavis Gallant’s “The Other Paris,” a comment on society’s expectations and view of marriage is pointed out using a matter-of-fact tone and the shallow but seemingly logically-thinking characters.
The piece opens with a casual and exquisite description of the scene where Howard Mitchell should have proposed to Carol if it were a fall-in-love moment; a classic romantic París proposal that “everyone expected.” The matter of their relationship is noted briefly and plainly, “He and Carol had known each other less than three weeks [and] there was no reason for the engagement or the marriage to fail,” which reflects on the nature of marriages in this society where “given a good climate, enough money, and a pair of good-natured, intelligent people, one had only to sit back and watch it grow.” The listing of the criteria for a successful and happy marriage turns the event into something like a science experiment or a garden: “Love required only the right conditions, like a geranium.” Gallant also provides a reasonable shopping list of items to look for to find a husband, like “similar economic backgrounds, financial security,” and the profession of their fathers. These techniques paint society’s view of marriage and love into a mundane and simplistic task instead of a life-changing event.
The nature of the characters gives just as much realization to the frivolousness of society as does the narrative voice. Carol has her “helpful college lectures on marriage” to learn the “true basis for happiness” is merely common interest and that the high rate of divorce can be explained by “the illusion of love.” These women have “great efficiency, [and] set about the business of falling in love.” When things do not go as planned, they “blame it on the weather [and] waited for better times.” On the other hand, Harold “had no notion of any of this.” His obliviousness to women’s plans makes the women hunters and the men the prey. These men are “discontented with [their] bachelor households [and] nothing ever got done” without the aid of a housemaid. So, by taking the advice of a trustworthy relative, they “marry some nice girl before it is too late.” The moment of Howard’s vision of “just a person who fills in at dinner” seems to be the moment men forget that they should be cautious when going into marriage. His casual proposal, though impromptu, gives him the illusion that he may have found exactly what he wanted, but has no real joy of the matter, being “between the state of numbness and a state of self-congratulation.”
Such is the society of Jane Austen or of Romeo and Juliet, where it was social norm to marry as a young girl to a respectable and reliable man of similar class without romantic feelings of any sort. Gallant shows marriage as a business transaction between parties and parents of similar position and profession. Before her flight with Romeo, Juliet has no reason to doubt that Paris would provide for her well, and Paris has no objections to finding a wife, furthering his business and producing heirs. Perhaps life back then warranted a man’s response of self-congratulation and the image of love for storybooks, but society has changed.
Marriage should not be taken lightly, and it is now those who play with it the ones who are seen to be disillusioned. While Gallant poses the reasons for it quite probable, his writing in “The Other Paris” concludes marriage as ridiculous.