The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Undine realizes it was a mistake to accept money from Peter. She wanted immediate gratification but now understands that it would have been better to lay a solid foundation for the future. She resents having to go to the Adirondacks, where there’s no one she wants to see. She goes to see Mr. Spragg at the office to ask about going to Europe. Mr. Spragg treats his daughter’s requests for money as a joke, but she insists she’s serious about getting to Europe.
Undine regrets taking money from Peter not because she feels that it’s wrong but because she feels it was bad strategy. By monetizing their relationship early, she has stirred up bad feelings, making it less likely that Peter might one day become her new husband and provide for her in the long term.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Mr. Spragg doesn’t believe Undine has a good reason to need to go to Europe, so she tells him she needs to go because she’s unhappy at home. Her father protests that Ralph treats her well, but Undine says she’s been unhappy since the very beginning—his family hates her, and he thinks like his family. She says they particularly resent that she is the reason Ralph has to work (to pay her bills).
Many of the things Undine says in this passage are true, so her real talent is not lying but finding ways to twist the truth to fit with what she wants. She accurately diagnoses the cause of many of her problems with Ralph, even though she shows little motivation to actually address these problems.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine found the right way to upset Mr. Spragg. He says that Ralph barely works at all. Undine adds that the Dagonets and Marvells are ashamed to associate with Mr. Spragg and Mrs. Spragg, even though they’ll gladly accept Mr. Spragg’s money for Ralph. Undine says that given all of this, is it any surprise that she’d like to get away?
Undine’s father likes to think of himself as a sensible man with money, and Undine knows how to flatter his self-image while still getting the money she wants from him. She knows her father doesn’t like Ralph’s work ethic, and so she uses this fact against her father.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Mr. Spragg says that the problem with going away to somewhere like Europe is that you always have to come back and face your problems again anyway. Undine disagrees—perhaps she could start a new life. She says if she had another chance, she’d marry the right man. Just then Elmer comes into the office. Despite his recent loss against Harmon B. Driscoll, Elmer still looks defiant.
Mr. Spragg correctly notes that the real problem with Undine isn’t where she lives—it’s what’s on the inside that’s making her unhappy. Undine doesn’t want to face this truth, however, so she continues to believe that she’ll find happiness if she simply lives in the right country or meets the right person.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Elmer says he’s there to see Mr. Spragg on business. They go off together and close the door behind them, while Undine tries to think of what she’ll say to her father when he returns. Eventually Elmer leaves. Mr. Spragg tells Undine he was just there about a real estate scheme, but that after Elmer’s recent fall, Mr. Spragg can’t do much to help him. Suddenly, Undine smiles and tells her father there’s something she’d like him to do for her.
Mr. Spragg has already secured his fortune, and so, while he got involved with Apex schemes in the past, he wants to put that life behind him. Elmer, on the other hand, hasn’t secured his fortune, and so he shows more interest in risk-taking.
Themes
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon