The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Custom of the Country can help.

The Custom of the Country: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ralph wakes up with a memory of having been recently crying. He tells himself he must get up to go to the office. He becomes ill and goes through life in a daze. People around him stop mentioning Undine. Laura Fairford stops by to help take care of Ralph. Eventually, in his illness, Ralph becomes delirious and forgets that Undine isn’t around. Mr. Spragg also visits Ralph and tells him that Harmon B. Driscoll is again facing a possible indictment and that Ralph should come to Mr. Spragg’s office as soon as he’s up and moving again.
The sudden downturn in Ralph’s health physically represents his mental state as he watches his marriage fall apart. Ralph becomes delirious and loses touch with reality, which is sadly fitting, given how he refused to accept reality even when he was healthy. Harmon B. Driscoll’s sudden reappearance in the plot shows how tumultuous life could be, not just for Ralph but for all the characters.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Ralph eventually feels well enough to meet Mr. Spragg in his office. Ralph is shocked to learn from Mr. Spragg that Undine is back in the United States, somewhere in Dakota. Ralph slowly begins to understand that Mr. Spragg is telling him that Undine left him and is in fact preparing to divorce him, blaming him for desertion. Mr. Spragg assures him that he appreciates what he did for Undine, but desertion seemed like the best option for everyone when applying for divorce.
Although Mr. Spragg says kind things to Ralph, he may not be as friendly as he appears on the surface. His suggestion that Ralph go along with “desertion” on the divorce papers seems to benefit his daughter Undine more than it will benefit Ralph, even though Mr. Spragg presents it as a mutually beneficial option.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Quotes
Ralph says he intends to make the divorce as difficult as he can. He asks Mr. Spragg if Undine expects Peter to marry her. Mr. Spragg says his daughter is currently alone and hasn’t mentioned any future plans. Mr. Spragg says he’d have given anything for the divorce not to happen, but it definitely will, so Ralph should prepare for it.
Despite Ralph’s threats, Mr. Spragg maintains his friendly demeanor, perhaps because he knows that Ralph won’t actually follow through on what he promises. Like Elmer Moffatt, Mr. Spragg doesn’t believe in grudges because they’re bad for business.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon