Racism or one night in marriage!

The most ideal surface may be concealing a destructive core. Tobias Wolff s short story, "Say Yes", in which two characters that seem to have achieved a perfect, writtendown-once and for all marriage, uncovers this destructive core. Wolff s style highlights the controversial topic of race's pertinence to marriage by emphasizing how husband and wife can be very distant in even the most convincingly understanding marriage. The story is not introduced with dialogue, description or names, but with a sentence so basic that it forces the reader to form a personal impression. Wolff writes, "They were doing the dishes, his wife washing while he dried". In this beautifully mutual marriage, a man and wife share the household works after a home cooked meal. By providing so little detail, Wolff forces the reader to picture the typical American marriage. He can only hope that the very thought causes the reader' to anticipate an American love story. In a single line, minimalism has dealt its first blow, for such fantasies of a heartwarming American classic only support Wolff s argument that society's view of the human relationship is Dangerously shallow. He hopes it is obvious how close the couple stands together at the sink, knowing the reader will be shocked to find that they are actually worlds apart. There is a purposeful lack of dialogue until Wolff introduces the story's conflict. He uses two concise paragraphs to spark an argument that will gradually wedge its way between the couple and degrade their marriage. In response to these first sentences, the literary critic, Bruce Alien, states that "Wolff can create quietly powerful settings...or underscore the ominousness of a conventional experience by spare, flat descriptions". There is no doubt that Wolff creates a powerful setting, for a couple's impending disagreement creates tension in the story .Using barely even the "spare, flat description"

that is common in his writing; Wolff reveals that this couple is not the stereotypical marriage that members of society strive for. The comforting icon of marriage that opened "Say Yes" will be destroyed by a serious disagreement between husband and wife. The wife daintily raises a question that seems simple at first but escalates into a much more complicated disagreement. Though open discussion is the basis of a successful marriage, the couple embarks upon a tumultuously controversial topic. Wolff writes, "They talked about different things and somehow got on the subject of whether white people should marry black people" .To a truly harmonious couple, such debate may only tarnish the armor of their concrete marriage. Instead, in their disagreement, the husband and wife unveil a shattering difference in opinion. Like the Trojan Horse, this beautiful marriage contains underlying chaos. It is the couple's disagreement over the plausibility of differing race in marriage that has dealt a fatal blow to their understanding of each other. Wolff s minimalism achieves brevity through the ruthless paring away of extraneous details. Consequently, this style forces the reader to understand independently how society,
in trying to fulfill a marital icon, overlooks understanding, the most important fundament in a true marriage

The couple's argument is no bombastic Shakespearean monologue, nor is it one of Arthur Miller's cleverly suggestive stretches of dialogue. Indeed, its simplicity adds prevalence to Wolff s theme because little is open for interpretation. Such is the brilliance of the minimalist, for with only a few short lines of dialogue, many authors would fail to establish a message. Wolff, however, uses the reader instead of the ink to supply the imagery, empowering his writing's effect. James Hannah writes: For Wolff, short fiction should focus on the human concerns of characters within a believable, realistic setting. Such stories are about "people who led lives neither

admirable not depraved, but so convincing in their portrayal that the reader had to acknowledge kinship. (In the Garden of North American •' Martyrs?) Wolff could easily have stated that the couple's relationship was indeed deteriorating, but nothing could deviate further from minimalism because doing so would have alienated the reader. Calling for the reader to consider his own relationships, Wolff hopes that after seeing the flaws with the seemingly hopeful marriage in "Say Yes," he will explore the truth in their own depth of understanding. Indeed, if a misunderstanding had such a destructive effect on Wolff s outwardly perfect couple, there is no telling how destructive the same misunderstanding could prove to an "average" couple. Even with minimal description, Wolff escalates the emotion of the argument. The husband passionately defends his belief that had his wife been black, she would be a different person. The wife takes an opposite, more civil stand, demanding that love should be unconditional despite potentially differing race. Thus, it becomes increasingly clear that this is not the compatible couple who stood washing dishes together paragraphs before, but

is one in which two humans stumble across strong differences in their mate that they had been oblivious to. After his wife leaves the kitchen, obviously disgusted with what she feels is ignorance in him, the man takes the garbage out, thinking, "in another thirty years or so they would both be dead. What would all that stuff matter then? He thought of the years they had spent together and how close they were and how well they knew each other”. Not only does he physically leave the house, creating distance from his wife, but the husband mentally detaches himself from his marriage by trying to put the altercation out of his head. Wolff shows this distance by simplifying the husband's thoughts, stating his feelings rather than drawing them out as a romanticist does. This emphasizes that in a stereotypical marriage such as this, an avoided issue can become the wedge that drives a couple apart. In this instance, a husband and wife have not only avoided an issue, but have never been

warned of its existence. Perhaps Wolff considers this even more detrimental. In addition to revealing its dissent, Tobias Wolff creates the effect of distancing the couple by withholding all proper nouns from his story. Except for in a few lines of dialogue, when one of the characters makes reference to "Jesus" or "Christ" to show frustration, no names or places are mentioned. Thus, the characters cannot be pinned as being of Slavic, Chinese, or any other descent for that matter. Similarly, they might as well live alone in the wilderness because no city or state name accompanies the setting of their generic home. Wolff invites the reader to make assumptions. James Hannah comments on the success of Wolff s distancing of his two characters: "Say Yes" carries [an] interesting variation on one of his most prevalent themes the inability of one person to know and understand another fully and the resultant mystery that enshrouds and often romanticizes the unknowable.
(Back in the World 8)

To what extent could the reader feel the connection in a marriage in which the husband and wife fail to recognize each other by name? In this way, Wolff s minimalism limits the emotional content of the story by restricting the two characters to almost robotic interaction. At first, Wolff beckoned the reader to regard his couple with the same esteem that the Trojans did the Trojan Horse. By the end of the story though, the Trojan Horse has erupted, leaving nothing to veil the conflict that has been hiding itself from both man and wife. Their argument had revealed incompatibilities in their marriage, and later the same night, as the husband lays in bed waiting for his wife to return from the bathroom, he realizes this. He scarcely recognizing the movements and sounds that she presumably makes on a nightly basis, and no longer connects with his wife as an understanding husband should. In relation to the husband's realization, Tobias Wolff himself once said,

"The desire to subvert and to probe and to question and to dig the foundations out from under everybody represents fraudulent selves to the world" (Back in the World 1). Wolff recommends that couples strive to understand each other unconditionally and provides the disaster in "Say Yes" as motivation to achieve this. A minimalist's manifesto, Wolff s story communicates the harm of society's blindness in marriage without ever condemning it openly. In doing so, Wolff beckons his audience to scratch the enamel off their own marriage and to test how deep or how shallow their level of understanding truly is. Wolff is capable of conveying a message using few words. The amount of words necessary to understand one's spouse, however, is infinite.

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