In this essay I will analise a short story called “The Moving Finger”, written by Edith Wharton, which talks about the relationship between two men and how the portrait of a dead woman influences in their lives. The ideas of love, obsession, in addition to control are explored through the characters and the portrait. Consequently, I will develop and discuss how the author portrays these ideas in different situations of the story.
To begin with, we get to know that the main character of the story, Mr Grancy, was immersed in a great depression after his first wife’s death, “Left alone, he revealed numb withered patches, like a tree from which a parasite has been stripped”. However, he recovers from it as he married his second wife (Mrs Grancy) who, in comparison to his first one (which was not good for him: “his first wife’s soft insidious egotism”), he really felt in love with. She was the new love of his life, so there was no sadness to fight anymore: “...and when he met the Lady who was to become his second wife… the whole man burst into flower”. Furthermore, in the course of the story we can observe how this love turns into obsession: his new wife was so priced for him that he trapped her essence in a portrait made by his friend Claydon, in order to have her forever; “you're my prisoner now- I shall never lose you.” he used to said, making reference to the fact that, even if she left, he would still have her. This kind of ‘joke’ became real as, even when she unfortunately died, she continued loving the portrait as if it was his real wife. Therefore, here is presented the idea of control, because not matter her death, she still belongs to him, being imprisoned in the house, inside the portrait. He also started to believe that she’s still alive (he too has conversations with it).
Moreover, the portrait is a very important object in the story. Actually, it is much more than just an object, instead it is one way in which the author portrays these ideas of control and obsession. This is shown as Mr Grancy’s love towards the portrait was so intense that it turns into an obsession. In his attempt to keep her alive through the painting, he twice made some changes to it so as to make her look older, as if it had been growing old all those years at his side. In fact, this started when Mr Grancy comes back from Europe and sees the portrait for the first time since he left: “She smiled at me coldly across the distance that divided us”, he said, in my opinion, making reference to the gap between life (he) and death (his wife), and also the one of age, as he realizes that the portrait showed a young woman, while he was an “old gray-haired broken man whom she had never known!”. In addition, the word “coldly” means that she was emotionally cold or also that she was dead; it also has to do with arrogance; she is too proud of herself while he feels inferior to her. This is connected to the idea of obsession, as he is being preoccupied with making the portrait look as she wanted it to look. Because of this, Mr Grancy decided to ask for help to Claydon, the one who had painted the masterpiece, in order to do these changes to it. The portrait also represents control; while it firstly seemed that Mr Grancy control the portrait and with it Mrs Grancy (the painting may represent a prison where she belongs only to him), then the portrait seemed to control him due to the fact that he was conditioned by what his wife appeared to show. That’s why we can assume that Mr. Grancy’s well-being depended on the way the portrait looked like.
Finally, the idea of desire is also presented, portrayed in Claydon’s character, as we can interpret that he was also obsessed with Mrs Grancy. Before Mrs. Grancy’s death, the relationship between Ralph and him was good. Afterwards, when she died, they started having problems regarding the portrait; their friendship turns into a rivalry. We can assume Claydon’s obsession firstly through Ralph’s comment in which he ask himself how could Claydon paint his wife as if he was looking with the same eyes, full of love, of her; so we may suspect that Claydon is also in love with her. However, in my opinion there can be two interpretations for this: “when he came home and sent for me to change the picture it was like asking me to commit murder. He wanted me to make an old woman of her who had been so divinely, unchangeably young!”. On the one hand, Claydon may not have actually been in love with her, but with the masterpiece he had created. He saw the action of changing his ‘divine’ painting as something fatal. On the other hand, he could have been all that time in love with her, and he only wishes to remember her as the young and beautiful woman she was. In fact, the first case ends up with Claydon’s refusal towards Mr Grancy’s request. However, when he was left alone with the picture, Mrs Grancy seemed to tell him (at least is what he says happened) "I'm not yours but his, and I want you to make me what he wishes", so he finally accepted to do it. But many years later, Mr Grancy ask Claydon to grow Mrs Grancy older, who was leaving him behind. By this time Grancy was ill, but doctors said he was going to get better. However, Claydon modified the portrait in order to reflect a woman who knew her husband was about to die. This meant his death-warrant, because as I said before, Mr. Grancy’s health depended on the way the portrait looked like, obviously this was part of the fantasy he had created. Even though Claydon swore that “...it was her face that told me he was dying, and that she wanted him to know it! She had a message for him and she made me deliver it” and also said “that was what she wanted of me and I did it - I kept them together to the last!”. I actually believe that he used it as an excuse to convince himself that what he was doing was right. However what he really wanted was to have the portrait for himself (the idea of obsessing control appears again): “ ‘But now she belongs to me’, he repeated…”
To conclude, I strongly believe that these three ideas of love, obsession and control are the main concepts in the story. Moreover, I really like how they are developed all throughout it. And something that astonished me is how love sometimes can make people do crazy things.