The Son’s Veto
The mother in this short story sacrifices everything for a son who doesn’t even care about her. ‘Women today would not behave like this.’ Do you agree with this statement?
You should explain how you feel about the characters and their relationship with each other. Remember to refer closely to the text.
Hardy opens the story with a very detailed description of a woman’s hair. He is commenting on fashion of the time, he says ‘One could understand such weaving and coiling being wrought to last intact for a year, or at least a calendar month; but that they should be demolished regularly at bedtime, after a single day of performance, seemed a reckless waste of successful fabrication.’ He goes on to explain that this woman didn’t have any maids, which tells us her position in the class system. Hardy pities this woman because she had done it all herself, ‘poor thing’.
Her name was Sophie; she was born in the country village of Gaymead in a remote nook of North Wessex. It happened when she was just nineteen, the first event that got her, to her present situation. She was working as a maid in the village’s vicarage when the wife of the parson Mrs Twycott, died. At the same time, Sophie had a young man, Sam Hobson, a gardener in the village.
Sam proposed to Sophie. So a few months later, Sophie asked to leave the vicarage. Mr Twycott asked her why and Sophie explained that Sam had asked to marry her. A few days later Sophie asked if she could stay on, because her and Sam had quarrelled. At this Mr Twycott realises how dependant he was on Sophie ‘She was the only one of his servant with which he came into immediate and continuous relation. What should he do if Sophie were gone?’ This rhetorical question reveals Mr Twycott’s deeper feelings.
Mr Twycott became ill, and whilst he was ill Sophie brought his meals to him, when one day, she slipped on the stairs whilst taking a tray down. She twisted her foot in the fall and the village surgeon was called. Mr Twycott became better, but Sophie was no longer able to walk. The Parson felt guilty for Sophie’s predicament and her suffering on his account. ‘You must never leave me again.’ He asks her to marry him, and she feels that she is unable to refuse someone who is so important, she doesn’t marry for love. This happens on both occasions, when Sam proposes her reasons for accepting are not love, but a home. Women in this period were unable to live independently of their family the only way to escape the home was to get married. She didn’t marry Sam, which shows how unstable the relationship was.
Mr Twycott committed social suicide by marrying beneath himself, and also the age gap meant the couple became persona non-gratis ‘despite Sophie’s spotless character.’ Marriage totally changes her situation. Geographically, she moves to London because in Gaymead they were shunned because of the marriage, and also Mr Twycott tried to refine her, to make her a lady and educate her in the ways of the upper class. Although she still couldn’t get-to-grips with the uses of “was and were”. They made few acquaintances, and those few were not impressed because she couldn’t ‘talk proper’. This is Hardy’s attempt to sneer at the class system, with all the snobbery and hypocrisy.
She gives birth to a son, Randolph. He is given the best of everything and a first class education. As he gets older and becomes inevitably like his friends, a snob, he grows away from his mother and starts to resent her failures ‘he loses his wide infantine sympathies’.
At the concert in the park he corrects her speech and she accepts it without retaliation. She is subservient, because she was a maid and so would be used to obeying orders. She married the Parson because of this, also she didn’t have the power to retaliate against her son due to being a maid for years, and this fealing of incapability and dependency on her son would make her do anything to keep him coming home. ‘It is not you who are the child but he’. He grows up a snob, ‘a gentleman’ Hardy refers to the son as ‘a gentleman’ a few times, sarcastically. Its ironic because as hard as the son tries to be upper-class he will never be, his mother isnt the reason, as he thinks, but its because of himself.
The son is a spoilt brat. This is Hardy’s attitude towards the son. When Mr Twycott died, her situation changed. He had foreseen his death long before hers, and had planned for it. She was left with a house and enough money to live. She had no choice or control over anything ‘throughout these changes Sophie had been treated like the child she was in nature though not in years’. This is why Hardy took so much time at the start to describe her hair and how pointless it was, just as her life was. Also she had so much spare time that her hair was the only thing she could be proud of, and taking care of her appearance gave routine to her life which helped her to get through each day.
As Randolph grew he became worse in his views and opinions. ‘He was reducing their compass to a population of a few thousand wealthy and titled people. The mere veneer of a thousand million people or so others’. Also after Mr Twycotts death she lost the few lady-like habits she had aquired. ‘She had become-in her sons eyes- a mother who’s mistakes and origin it was his painful lot as a gentleman to blush for’. Again Hardy ironically refers to Randolph as a gentleman. In the next few linesHardy gives his opinion on the boy. ‘As yet he was far from being man enough -if ever he would be- to rate these sins of hers at their true infinitesimal value’. He goes on to say how Sophie is penned in and a mothers love for her son is the most powerful thing in the world, and he still may yet need it ‘but as yet, it remained stored’
As time marches on her health deteriorates and she finds it difficult to sleep beacause she is taking no excersise. She doesnt live, she exists, eeks by, day-by-day, monotonous and without purpose. Everyday she sits in the window watching the farmers, going to market in the morning and returning in the afternoon.
Fate is a continuing theme throughout this story, Hardy questions our existance, is choice merely an illusion, are we just puppets on a string reading from a script? Is everything pre-determined? If this is true then fate has a cruel sense of humor. One day whilst sitting in her window, Sam Hobson, her childhood sweetheart finds her. He had heard she was living in that area of London and so had aquired a job taking produce to the market. This shows how much he feels for Sophie, he had gone through so much effort on such a slim chance of finding her. “I knew you lived along here somewhere. I have often looked out for ‘ee.” She tells Sam how she misses Gaymead and the life they could have had tgether. After some time Sam proposes to her and she would love to but voices concerns about her son.
Sam replies, very wisely in my opinion, with “You can do what you like Sophie. It is not you who is the child but he.” This epitimises the relationship Sophie has with Randolph. All her life she has been downtrodden and even her son pushes her around, she has always been told what she can and can’t do. Sams reply is Hardy showing his dissaproval.
When she talked to her son he was positive about the idea of re-marriage but when he found out that it wasn’t to a noble gentleman but to a commoner, a farmer! He became angry and had a tantrum. After that Sophie was fearful of challenging her son and thought he would mellow with age. He didnt mellow, he continued to deny Sophie her sole desire. In a fit of rage he made Sophie swear on the cross that she would never marry Sam Hobson. Its difficult to believe how the son could be so cruel but also how Sophie could put up with him, in my opinion if he fell off a cliff it wouldnt be a bad thing.
In the end she dies, alone, unhappy and senile. She spent her dying years talking to herself and sitting in her window. At the funeral her only mourner was her son, the clergyman. Who was supposed to represent God and christian valuesyet shows himself to be a snob and a hypocrite. Sam strove to better himself and became a well respected Green Grocer whereas Sophie sacrificed her health and hapiness all because she couldnt stand up to her son.
I think Sophie was a weak, subservient person, but through no fault of her own, its due to having been a maid and servant all her life. She was a sad character who was a victim of the world in which she lived. Mr Twycott was a straight laced vicar who was always thouroughly organised. I feel he took advantage of Sophies kind and generous nature and that her situation is partly his fault. Sam Hobson was Sophies childhood sweetheart, I don’t think Sophie realised how much she loved Sam and she was foolish for marrying Mr Twycott. Sam is the hero of the story, he was dedicated to Sophie and showed this by following her to London, getting a job, and going through all that effort just to find her again.
Personally I detest the son, he is a little swine who’s ‘too-big-for-his-boots’, he is a bully, he is snobby. He’s also a ‘wannabe’. He wants to be upper-class although he isn’t upper-class at all.
The way I feel shows Hardy has done a good job in making the reader feel antagonistic towards the son and sympathetic for Sophie. He makes me feel strongly about fictional characters. I enjoyed the story, my favourite character was Sam Hobson for being so noble, he was by far more of a gentleman than Randolph ever could be even though he was from a lower social class. This is Hardy’s aim, to highlight the stupidity of the nobility system. Even though he was from a lower class he was noble because of his actions and how he truly loved Sophie.
In conclusion I think that women today would not act like this. Women are independant and dont need to rely on marriage to escape from their home. Society is no longer prejudiced as much, although some people still, sadly, are living in the dark ages and believe that ‘a womans place is in the home’. A womans place is wherever they want to be.