Transformation on ‘F’ Street

Anjuelle D. Floyd

Edward P. Jones’s story, A Butterfly on ‘F’ Street is about transformation—a change that occurs between two women that love the same man, now deceased. Jones uses metaphor and setting to emphasize the change. The story opens with Mildred Harper crossing ‘F’ street on her way from Morton’s to Woolworth’s. On reaching the island or median in the center of the street her eyes fix upon a golden-yellow butterfly.

As a butterfly results from the metamorphosis of a caterpillar, so the butterfly fluttering about the median alerts us a change is about to occur with Mildred now following the death of her husband, Mansfield Harper—whose passing has been yet another transformation. (p. 177)

On spotting the butterfly, Mildred is astonished to see such a thing, wild, utterly fragile, in the midst of buildings, noise, cars, and buses. (p. 177) Mildred is in a vulnerable state too. She concludes that the butterfly must have lost its way. (p. 177) Yet again, like the butterfly, Mildred is also traveling without a compass.

After spotting the butterfly Mildred turns back and comes, face to face with the woman her husband had left her for. (p. 177)

Mildred has seen the woman four or five times from the back seat of her son’s car. Seeing her now and so close, is like a recurring dream wherein she finds a being that has never before occupied that dream. (p. 177-178) The phrase, recurring dream alludes to the possibility that while this situation is clearly awkward for Mildred, she has on some level 10/14/2007 1 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City of 4
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Transformation on ‘F’ Street
Anjuelle D. Floyd

wished for it to occur.

The change which the butterfly’s presence foreshadows is rooted in the instance when Mildred, from the back seat of her son’s car, saw Mansfield and the woman he had left her for come up the street, his strong arm around hers, as if lovers, whispering into the woman’s ear every sweet word that had ever been invented.

Jones tells us that Mildred, had expected to see them this way, perhaps like encountering the woman while crossing ‘F’ Street. (p. 180) These experiences are like that of a recurring dream, each embedded and reiterating the other. (p. 177)

But what Mildred has witnessed from the back of her son’s car is not reality, rather a memory, or wish of what had, or might have taken place, between Mildred and Mansfield.

In actuality the woman was holding Mansfield’s elbow. When they reached the house, she opened the gate and led him up the stairs to the porch. As Mansfield waited patiently while she unlocked the front door, moths circled the overhead bulb—a bulb that offered no light. The woman then guided him inside, and to a dark room. Mansfield Harper had been dying of cancer when Mildred saw him and woman.

And while moths resemble butterflies they are not butterflies. What Mildred witnessed
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was not reality. Rather it held a moth-like resemblance of her hopes, and dreams, or possibly regrets concerning her life with Mansfield.

During the encounter on ‘F’ Street the woman, for whom Mansfield had left Mildred, introduces herself as Elizabeth Ann Coleman. She explains that her friends call her Lady, an ironic name for a woman who has occupied the role of the other woman.

Yet a twist of fate has rendered Lady vulnerable, same as, if not more than, Mildred when Mansfield abandoned her for Lady. Both women have lost the man they loved.

Mildred says to Lady, God is with you. That she does not use the word ‘be’ as in God be with you speaks volumes to what Mildred has seen, and now recognizes in Lady/Elizabeth. (p. 180) Mildred has witnessed aspects of herself in Lady/Elizabeth, fragments reflective of, and that resonate with, Mildred’s love for Mansfield—two qualities that ultimately dropped Mildred at the doorstep of insanity when Mansfield left her for Elizabeth/Lady. (p. 178)

Mansfield is now dead from cancer, and as Lady/Elizabeth, states she did not attend Mansfield’s funeral because she was not well, Jones reveals that Mansfield never divorced Mildred.

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Transformation on ‘F’ Street
Anjuelle D. Floyd

Mansfield Harper’s death, another exit, has now deposited Elizabeth upon insanity’s doorstep, a place where Mildred once was, and from which she has now healed. Yet she has not forgotten the ache, a pain wherein she recalls the day by hour by minute by second presence in her life as she and Lady/Elizabeth stand at the median on ‘F’ Street, a crossroad in their lives, over and through which the butterfly, a symbol of changed, has flown in zigzag fashion. (p. 179)

Mildred concludes that God had not been with Lady for a long time, a realization that manifests Mildred’s ultimate transformation.

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