The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the opera, Undine is thrilled to finally be on the same level as the people in the boxes. Mabel Lipscomb joins her. Undine uses her opera glasses to scan the crowd. She notices that just one box is open—Clare’s (since she is still dining with Ralph). Just then, Undine begins to feel that she herself is being watched and notices Peter’s bulging eyes on her. He is sitting with the woman who had the tortoise-shell eye-glass before. Mabel notes that Claud Popple is also in attendance.
Undine once again uses art as an opportunity to focus on people instead. Clare and Peter are married, and yet they sit separately, and each bring someone else to the opera, suggesting that their marriage isn’t close. Peter’s bulging eyes suggest that perhaps he hasn’t learned discretion as well as some other members of New York’s upper class.
Themes
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Just then, Clare and Ralph arrive to take their box, seemingly alone. Mabel Lipscomb asks Undine if they should call over to greet Ralph, but Undine quickly says no. The opera starts. During intermission, Claud Popple and Peter stumble into Undine’s box. They talk, with Peter mentioning that his wife, Clare, thinks that even going to restaurants is beneath her. Eventually, Claud and Peter leave the box, with Peter promising to see them again afterward.
Undine senses that Clare and Ralph want their privacy, even though she doesn’t fully understand the nature of their relationship yet. Claud and Peter invite themselves into Undine’s box (coming over from their less expensive seats), suggesting how shameless they are about trying to make beneficial social connections.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Quotes
Just then, Ralph appears at the back of the box to see Undine. She is disappointed, however, that when he talks, he remains distant and formal. Eventually, he leaves, but he asks first if she’ll be at home the next day.
Ralph is more discreet than Peter and Claud, coming to Undine’s box later and remaining distant. He represents a more traditional version of New York sophistication, although this sometimes holds him back.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon