The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As more days pass, Ralph begins to feel that Clare is right and that if Undine remarries, he really will begin to feel freer. He figures that even if Undine failed with Peter, she is cunning enough that she won’t make the same mistakes again.
Like Undine, Ralph constantly believes that he needs just one more thing to be happy. While Ralph doesn’t spend money as extravagantly as Undine, his inability to be satisfied with what he has parallels Undine’s own materialism.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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One day, when Ralph is in a good mood, he gets a message from his mother that Mrs. Spragg called and said Mrs. Heeny was coming to fetch Paul. Later, Ralph gets a letter addressed to him which seems to be a legal letter concerning Paul’s custody, which the courts have solely awarded to Undine. Ralph feels this must be some mistake and that surely his own lawyers would have never signed off on anything like this. Then he remembers: in order to avoid scandal for Paul, Ralph went along with everything the Spragg family’s lawyers requested.
Ralph believes that he’s already endured the worst of his divorce, but in fact, Undine has more in store for him. Following Elmer’s suggestion, she plans to use Paul’s custody as an excuse to get money from Ralph. Because earlier Ralph signed the divorce papers without contesting anything, he has no legal grounds to fight the request, showing the dangers of being a trusting person in such a cutthroat society.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Full of rage, Ralph goes to see his old divorce lawyer. When the lawyer arrives, he informs Ralph that he simply acted exactly as Ralph asked him to. Ralph asks if there’s anything he can do, and the lawyer suggests that the only option is to prove Undine has some ulterior motive for wanting custody of Paul.
Ralph is used to people taking care of him—like how his grandfather used to give him money—so it comes as a shock to learn how little people like his own lawyer actually care about his welfare.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Ralph goes to see Mr. Spragg and Mrs. Spragg while they’re at dinner. Ralph asks what’s going on with Paul, and Mr. Spragg calmly asks if he got the letter yet. Ralph says the whole thing is preposterous and he’ll resist it. Mr. Spragg simply notes that he’s sorry Ralph didn’t exercise the option of demanding Paul’s custody back when he had the chance.
Undine may seem unusually selfish by using her own son as leverage to get money from her ex-husband, but in fact, many of the other characters seem to approve of her decision, including Mr. and Mrs. Spragg. This suggests that while Undine is indeed materialistic, she gets away with her behavior because people like her parents tolerate it and even encourage it.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
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