Frye's Structuralist Method Applied to "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife"
|Romance (Summer)||Tragedy (Autumn)||Comedy (Spring)||Irony/Satire (Winter)|
|Conflict||Catastrophe||Triumph||Disorder and Confusion|
The logs were lost in the summer, and are sought to be used in the fireplace to warm the house in the winter. Therefore, it must be autumn, a season associated with "catastrophe" and "tragedy." The story seems to be veering toward that very conclusion until the Doctor's Wife quotes the biblical proverb about the "rule of the spirit." That proverb, and Nick's offer of loyalty and black squirrels, magically transforms the Doctor from a potential tragic hero into a questor hero such as we find in romance. They go to seek a mystery, a "Holy Grail" of sorts rather than a "princess" or other typical romance object of quest. The narrative supplants the tragic catastrophe (doctor kills himself/his wife/his son/Dick Boulton) into a transforming journey whose conflict, the story implies, will reaffirm the father-son identity of both participants.
So what? Hemingway's story implies that our life-plots are not inevitably bound to Frye's seasonal-genre cycle, but can be transformed in both kind and direction by application of words and deeds that redirect the protagonist's energies from destructive masculinity to constructive paternity. This seems to be a life-long theme in Hemingway's fiction. Compare the destructive inevitabilities in some characters' narrative trajectories (the Wife in "Cat" or Krebs in "Soldier's Home").
|Protagonist's Power||Mode||Character Type|
|Superior in kind to humans and nature||Myth||Gods|
|Superior in degree to humans and nature||Romance||Heroes|
|Superior in degree to humans but not to nature||Epic or tragedy||Leaders|
|Equal to humans and of ordinary nature||Comedy and realism||Ordinary people|
|Inferior to humans and of inferior nature||Irony||Antiheroes|
The "doctor" seems to begin the tale with power superior in degree to humans and to nature, but he encounters an antagonist in Dick Boulton who seems to be superior to both the doctor and to the doctor's idea of nature. This challenge is Dick's romance victory in which he is the hero, but paradoxically we are told the story from the doctor's perspective, in which he is the villain whose false assertion of heroism has been defeated. The same thing happens in the Doctor's unsuccessful struggle with the Doctor's Wife. In Nick's story, however, the Doctor is the romance hero, superior in degree to humans and nature, who will rescue his son from the tyranny of the text and go with him on the quest for the black squirrels, holders of the forest's secrets.