Enduring Love

by

Ian McEwan

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Enduring Love: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Several weeks later, Joe and Clarissa are lying in bed “long past midnight,” and Joe is reflecting on the state of their relationship. The two of them are “hardly at war,” but “everything between [them]” is “stalled.” Clarissa considers Joe to be “manic, perversely obsessed, and . . . the thieving invader of her private space,” while Joe considers Clarissa to be “disloyal, unsupportive . . . and irrationally suspicious.” Nevertheless, the couple have not been quarreling, perhaps because, Joe reasons, a “confrontation might blow [them] apart.” Rather, they have been going about their working lives and living together politely, despite the fact that they have “lost the trick of love.”
Many of the novel’s themes are operative in these important paragraphs. Clarissa explicitly accuses Joe of bearing an obsession of his own (and, in so doing, damaging their relationship), while Joe accuses Clarissa of disloyalty and irrationality. On display here is the tenuousness of love: it is something that must be held onto tightly lest it be “lost.” It can be harmed, perhaps fatally, by disloyalties and obsessions that turn one’s attention to matters that are ultimately less significant.
Themes
The Importance of Loyalty Theme Icon
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Considering the specifics of this cold existence, Joe recalls how he and Clarissa sleep “in the same bed” but never “embrace”—how they use “the same bathroom” but never see “each other naked.” Though Joe understands Clarissa’s beauty as “some schoolbook fact got by heart,” he feels himself to be “a giant polyp of uninspired logic with which [Clarissa is] mistakenly associated.”
Joe’s dissatisfaction with his own rationalism is highly significant. Without the emotional balance provided by Clarissa, Joe is reduced to experiencing their relationship as a series of unremarkable facts. Reason alone, in other words, cannot satisfy him.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Jed Parry, Joe reveals, has been sending “three or four letters a week,” all of which are “long and ardent” and all of which contain references to God’s love, Parry’s determination not to give up on Joe, and some “element of accusation” hurled in Joe’s direction. Parry continues to believe Joe to be “a tease” who is “leading him on,” and though Parry no longer insists that Joe is sending him “messages” with curtains or hedges, he now believes that Joe is speaking to him “in dreams.”
Jed Parry’s assertion that Joe is invading his dreams may be evidence that Parry’s condition is evolving past even its prior level of insanity. Though Joe never sent Parry any messages with his curtains, the curtains at least existed. Parry’s claim about his dreams, meanwhile, is totally disconnected from any factual reality.
Themes
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Joe narrates that he has learned how to “scan” Parry’s letters looking for some overt threat that he can take to the police. Parry, however, is too “cunning” to make his threats explicit, warning instead merely that Joe’s decision to ignore him might “end in sorrow and more tears than [they] ever dreamed.” Joe’s research into de Clerambault’s, meanwhile, has revealed that “well over half” of all male sufferers of the condition have “attempted violence on the subjects of their obsessions.”
The idea that obsession often leads to violence is a theme of these paragraphs, both because of Parry’s reference to “sorrow” and because of Joe’s findings about the proclivities of de Clerambault’s sufferers. Joe’s skimming of Parry’s letters, meanwhile, reveals his rational mind’s disinclination to enter Parry’s fantasies at greater length than necessary.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
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In addition to writing, Parry has continued to lurk outside of Joe’s apartment building, yet he has ceased to talk to Joe when Joe passes him. This change in strategy, Joe reveals, has frustrated him because Joe has begun carrying a recording device with him in the hope of capturing on tape some threatening remark from Parry. Though Joe attempts to manipulate Parry into making such a threat, going so far as to run his fingers along a hedge in order to send Parry a fake “message,” he realizes that Parry’s “love [is] not shaped by external influences,” proceeding instead from a “private necessity” beyond Joe’s reach. Even if Joe were to write Parry a passionate love letter, he speculates, “it would have made no difference.”
Joe’s claim about the potential effects of a love letter is a startling one, yet the reader is inclined to agree with Joe’s judgment. Important here is the fact that Jed Parry’s belief system is entirely intuitive—unlike Joe’s rationalism, which attempts to place value solely on external, verifiable facts, Parry’s worldview proceeds from within. It is fitting, then, that Joe is unable to manipulate Parry using reason and careful planning. Parry’s world does not operate according to those rules.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Joe confesses to the reader that Parry has made him increasingly paranoid. He takes extra care “locking up the flat at night,” and he constantly worries that he is being followed. Joe has finally managed to secure an appointment with a police inspector, but he simultaneously wonders if he should purchase “mace” or “a knife” with which he might protect himself. Despite these daydreams, Joe realizes, however, that Parry is unlikely to “come at [him] head on.”
Despite his rationalism, Joe is not immune to the temptation to fantasize, and it is significant that the intrusion of Jed Parry into his life increases this susceptibility. By forcing Joe to give into paranoia and worry, Parry is subtly altering Joe’s mental and emotional identity, temporarily making it more like his own.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Setting aside these recollections, Joe watches Clarissa on the bed beside him. He wonders if the many years they have spent together “harmoniously” are enough to sustain them in this time of crisis. Rather than attempting another discussion, Joe has decided that “too much [is] made in pop psychology . . . of talking things through.” Instead, he will let the conflict between himself and Clarissa “die.” With this thought, he reaches out for her in an attempt to initiate an embrace.
Joe explicitly rejects the emotional and intuitive premises of “pop psychology.” In the place of those premises, he employs a sort of crude mathematical formula, whereby the years he has spent with Clarissa are set against the depth of their current problems. This attempt to apply logic to an emotional problem will not end well.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
To Joe’s surprise, Clarissa responds to this gesture by declaring that things between them are “over.” Joe realizes, upon hearing her say so, that he is in a “state of denial,” yet he simultaneously realizes that he feels “nothing at all.” Instead, his thoughts jump, “froglike,” to Jean Logan, with whom Joe now understands Clarissa to have something in common. Both are women who believe themselves “to be wronged” and who “expect something” from Joe as a result.
These paragraphs reveal the convolutedness of Joe’s emotions. He overanalyzes them, yet he does so in dry, clinical terms. So, too, is he unable to prevent his thoughts from jumping inappropriately to less important subjects. The connection he makes between Clarissa and Jean Logan is accurate but completely unimportant.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Thinking about Jean Logan immediately puts Joe in mind of the errand she has set him on, despite the fact that he hasn’t yet responded to Clarissa’s declaration. He has attempted to call Toby Greene but has found it difficult to get past Greene’s unfriendly mother. Upon finally speaking to Greene, Joe has learned that the man has no idea whether Jean’s husband was alone in the moments before the accident. Similarly unhelpful has been James Gadd, who has declared that he will only talk about the accident “in the coroner’s court.” Upon Joe’s reaching Joseph Lacey, however, his luck has changed. Though Lacey has insisted on meeting in person, he has implied that he indeed saw John Logan with a woman.
That Joe is himself susceptible to obsessive thinking is made clear in his reaction to Jean Logan’s obsession. Though his relationship with Clarissa has reached a crisis of previously unknown proportions, Joe has briefly taken on Jean Logan’s quest as his own and doesn’t yet respond to Clarissa. The unreasonableness of Jean Logan’s request may be illustrated, meanwhile, in the fact that none of the other witnesses has been of any assistance.
Themes
Obsession Theme Icon
Clarissa herself, Joe recalls, is unsure about the number of doors she saw open on John Logan’s car, but she is certain that she didn’t see a woman. Joe remembers briefly considering asking Parry to recall the scene, thinking that perhaps he can use the conversation to goad Parry into making a threat, but he soon realizes that “the idea of obtaining linear information from [Parry] seemed fantastic.”
Once again, Joe reveals himself to be susceptible to foolish thinking—the idea that Parry might be a reliable witness to anything. What sets Joe apart from Parry is his rational ability to recognize when he has slipped into unreason before acting on it.
Themes
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
As Joe pursues these thoughts, he is interrupted by Clarissa, whose declaration about their relationship he has yet to answer. Clarissa accuses Joe, accurately, of thinking about Parry even in this moment, and when Joe insists once more that Parry is a “real threat,” Clarissa begins to cry. Joe reveals to her what his research on de Clerambault’s has taught him, but Clarissa recoils from the idea that Joe can “read [his] way out of this.” Yet Clarissa goes further, too, suggesting that Parry, whom she rarely sees outside their apartment, isn’t there as often as Joe claims and that Parry’s supposed handwriting is suspiciously similar to Joe’s. When Clarissa leaves the bedroom to sleep in the room set aside for children, Joe realizes that, although the two of them may continue to live “side by side,” he is finally “on [his] own.”
Clarissa’s intuitive thinking has left her susceptible to a fantastic narrative—that Joe is secretly the author of Jed Parry’s letters. Yet her intuition has also led her, much more accurately, to diagnose Joe’s thought processes as he finally replies to her declaration. Clarissa’s reliance on emotion and intuition is imperfect, clearly, but it is not entirely mistaken, just as Joe’s rationalism is not entirely without flaws of its own. That the two ideologies are starkly opposed to each other, however, is made clear by Clarissa’s disdain for Joe’s research.
Themes
The Importance of Loyalty Theme Icon
Rationalism vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Obsession Theme Icon
The Nature of Love Theme Icon