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February 1, 2012

A Journey by Edith Wharton- Summary

A Journey by Edith Wharton- Summary

The young woman was working as a school teacher trying to pay off her arrears (overdue debts) when she met her future husband. He was her salvation. She was naturally full of life, but her life circumstances forced her to live a dull existence until she met her husband, and he gave her chance to live the life that she had always dreamed about. Even though they were from different social classes, they were so in love, sharing a certain zest for life, and the unknowing future. Their bliss was cut short when her husband fell ill shortly after they were married. "Life had a grudge against her: she was never to be allowed to spread her wings" (245). They went to Colorado, putting the wedding presents and their new furniture in storage, because the doctors believed that some mild air would help him recover. She hated living in Colorado, because she did not know anyone there nor did they care to get to know her. Finally, they got the all clear from the doctors to go home, which was a two-fold blessing; on one hand, she finally got to home to her friends and family, whom she missed very much, and on the other hand, it meant that her husband was dying.

Lying in her berth (accommodations, bed) on the train one night, she thought about how the illness had changed her husband; his childlike petulance towards her was indicative of just how bad things had gotten in the last year; he had become like a stranger to her. He envied her health and vivacity. The first day on the train went by pleasantly; he seemed to perk up a little while watching the world passing along outside the train window. The second day he began to tire, and grew weary by the presence of a freckled boy, who stared at him incessantly. By the third day, it was apparent that he was getting increasingly sick. She was in turn growing increasingly fatigued. Everyone on the train stared at them sympathetically. In the evening of the third day, she asked him if he was tired, to which he responded that he was not very tired. She told him that they would be home soon, and he agreed that they would be home very soon. She didn't sleep very well that night. She kept thinking that she heard him call her, but she wasn't sure so she stayed in bed. She finally fell asleep. She woke up the next morning before everyone else. She was always cheerful in the morning. When she went to check on her husband, she found him dead. He was cold to the touch, and his eyes were wide open. She was overwhelmed with grief and disbelief. She decided not to tell anyone that he had passed away until they reached New York, because she was scared that they would be put off of the train. When she was young she remembered when a child died while on the train and the family was thrust off of the train. The image of the husband and wife holding the body of their dead child as the train pulled away from the station is seared in her brain. She closed the curtains to his berth, pinning them closed so that no one could see in. She went back to her berth and sat down. The porter came by and asked if he was getting up soon, and she told him that she didn't know.

The porter brought a glass of milk to her to give to her husband. She went into his berth and sat on the corner of his bed. She closed his eyes, drank the milk, and then went back to her berth. The porter came back and asked when he was going to be able to make up her husband's bed, and she told him that she didn't know. The other passengers stared at her sympathetically. A woman sat down beside her and asked to assist her in taking care of her husband, but she said no. The lady asked her what she did when her husband is taken ill, and she said that she let him sleep. The lady said that too much sleep was healthy. Then the lady asked about his medicine, and she told her that he got his medicine in two hours. The lady looked disappointed, and then went back to her seat. The passengers looked at the closed curtain went they went by, but no one said anything. Time went by and she fell into a haze; she felt dizzy as thoughts raced through her head. She must remember to scream when she finds her husband otherwise they will know that she covered up his death all day. She felt exhausted and passed out. When she awoke she felt very hungry, but she didn't want to leave her seat. She remembered that she had a biscuit in her bag, so she ate that. She also drank some brandy from her husband's flask. She fell asleep again. "Through her sleep she felt the impetuous rush of the train. It seemed to be life itself that was sweeping her on with headlong inexorable force-sweeping her into darkness and terror, and the awe of unknown days.-Now all at once everything was still-not a sound, not a pulsation….She was dead in her turn, and lay beside him with smooth upstaring face" (254). She awoke with a start, hours had passed, and passengers were gathering their things. The porter came up to her and asked for her husband's ticket. She had reached her destination. The porter said that they better get her husband up now. "She tried to speak; but suddenly the care grew dark. She flung up her arms, struggling to catch at something, and fell face downward, striking her head against the dead man's berth" (255).


Wharton, Edith. "A Journey." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.245-255.