Near the end of the novel, when Archer feels hopeless about the possibility of being with Ellen, he spends a quiet night at home with May. As he sits with his wife, his resentment toward her grows and he uses hyperbolic language to describe her:
As [May] sat thus, the lamplight full on her clear brow, he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never, in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion. She had spent her poetry and romance on their short courting: the function was exhausted because the need was past. Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother.
Archer’s inner reflection that “he would always know the thoughts behind [May’s brow], that never, in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion” is clearly hyperbolic—it seems highly unlikely that she would never surprise him (especially as she has surprised him before). Here, the exaggeration captures the extent of Archer’s anger and resentment over the fact that he cannot be with Ellen, who he believes is far more interesting and intelligent than May is. Clearly, Archer craves more than his marriage with May can offer him.
There is a second hyperbole in this passage as well: “Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother.” Again, Archer exaggerates in order to communicate his frustration with May’s lack of spontaneity and intellectual curiosity. She is not actually becoming her mother, but, in Archer’s mind, she is coming to embody certain qualities that her mother Mrs. Welland possesses, such as caring more about innocence and following the rules of society than about “poetry and romance.”