The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 34 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For several weeks, Ralph frets over how to raise enough money to buy back Paul—his lawyers confirm that Clare’s guess about Undine’s motivations is correct. Ralph is reluctant to allow Clare to help him financially, but she insists that she’s willing to do it. His search for funds brings him to the office of Elmer. Apparently, Elmer was supposed to be a valuable witness in an investigation, but when he came back from Europe, he gave few details in his testimony.
Undine’s decision to leverage Paul is particularly cruel because she knows that Ralph doesn’t have the money—but she also knows that Ralph has connections who might be able to help him raise it. Cruelty isn’t the point for Undine—she feels that she’s in a desperate situation herself and has no other options—but her lack of concern for Ralph’s feelings (or Paul’s) shows how far she’ll go to get her way.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Elmer’s office looks much nicer than it did the last time Ralph was there. Elmer listens but says that everyone is looking to make fast money lately, just like Ralph. He tells Ralph he can get him $100,000 in three weeks, but he needs to be willing to put up $50,000 first. Ralph expected something like this, but he still worries about how he’ll put together the money.
Ralph had financial success with Elmer before, but Elmer’s life has been a series of ups and downs, so there’s no guarantee that Ralph will be just as lucky a second time. Especially after considering inflation, $100,000 is a huge amount of money, showing just how much it takes to satisfy Undine.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Ralph goes to Clare to tell her about his meeting with Elmer. He says it seems that Elmer has some connection to Representative James J. Rolliver, who runs things in Apex. Clare doesn’t care about the details—she’ll give him money regardless. Ralph has already raised some money from his relatives, but Clare insists on making her own contribution, despite Ralph’s protests that he might lose it all. As Ralph goes to leave, Clare glances at him, and suddenly they start to kiss—right under a portrait of Peter.
Although James J. Rolliver doesn’t physically appear in the story, his name keeps coming up. Like Elmer, his fortunes seem to go up and down, and the reference to Rolliver here seems to suggest Ralph’s own uncertain future. Ralph’s desperate situation encourages him to break taboo and finally kiss Clare. Even as he does so, however, he can’t forget about Peter, as looming presence of Peter’s giant portrait symbolizes.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon