The Custom of the Country


Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Ralph walks down Wall Street, noticing cracks in the pavement and trash in the gutters. He thinks suddenly that he should be at the office but instead goes home in a daze. He thinks more about how Undine lied about Elmer to use him. Now, he realizes she’s been lying to him from the moment she met him.
Although Ralph was in a good mood earlier, his current bad mood causes him to notice the flaws in everything, like the cracked sidewalks of Wall Street and the dirty gutters. He feels that his life was a lie and that his previous, more optimistic way of looking at the world was wrong.
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 A servant’s knock at the door disturbs Ralph’s thoughts. The servant asks Ralph to help resolve a dispute she’s having with another servant. The woman leaves, and Ralph dreads having to get involved. He’s still worried about the money he owes Undine if he wants to keep Paul. He hears the servant coming back, so he bolts the door of his room. He then reaches into a hidden panel in a drawer and suddenly pulls out a revolver and puts it up against his head. He thinks that if he’s gone, at least it will help his ex-wife out.
This passage is one of the most shocking in the book. Up until this point, Ralph seems sad but still able to maintain his daily routine and deal with setbacks. All of a sudden, however, Ralph’s actions reveal that he is potentially suicidal. The section is suspenseful, hiding the fact that Ralph even owns a gun until the last second. While the chapter deliberately ends on a cliffhanger, right at the moment when Ralph has a gun to his head, the next chapter makes it clear that things didn’t end there, and that Ralph did indeed pull the trigger and kill himself.
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