Chapter 3, Chicago, outlines the story of John Ashley’s only son, Roger, in Chicago. Roger Ashley left the house shortly after the conviction and escape of his father. He went to Chicago to look for work. This chapter takes us through his time in Chicago up until 1905, when he returns to Coaltown for Christmas.
In this chapter, we see Roger leave his home and interact with the crowds of Chicago–reconciling himself with “human continuity” (p. 209). He also starts meeting young women in Chicago, often dating multiple at one time. We get short phrases such as these: “Everybody liked him and he liked nobody” (p. 210), “He loved no one” (p. 215), and “He was loved and he loved no one” (p. 216).
What is the nature of love in Roger’s life? Why does everyone love him and why does he love no one?
I think that Roger takes after his dad, John. Back in Coaltown, John Ashley attracted the attention of everybody. He was loved by everyone, especially the women in Coaltown. Roger probably has the same effect on the people he meets in Chicago.
With regards to Roger’s lack of love towards others, Wilder as narrator says the following:
He was expunging from his imagination–by urgent necessity–the compelling presence of the woman who he had loved so passionately and whose failure to respond to him had come close to convincing him that he would never be loved, that he could never love. None of these women resembled their mother. (p. 251)
Beata Ashley, Roger’s mother, apparently wasn’t loving. When we hear about Beata as a mother, she seems to be a good mother. But after we become acquainted with her, we realize that she wasn’t necessarily loving to her kids. She cared for them and provided for them, but there wasn’t an outpouring of love that is usually present in maternal relationships. Apparently,
She merely didn’t care they [or we] existed or not. Mama cared for only one person in the world. She adored Papa. (p. 272)
Beata was so devoted to her husband, John, and she adored him so much, that she neglected to love her own children. This comes to affect Roger. He loved her with all his heart, but she failed to reciprocate that love, forcing him to question whether he could be loved at all, and wonder if he could ever love again.
We get a peak at a possibility for him to love again at the end of the chapter. On the train home, Felicite Lansing, the daughter of the man that John Ashley was convicted of murdering, talks to Roger about something she needs to tell him on Christmas Day. He says to himself that he will marry that girl.
Will roger be able to love?
“One day, months ago, the Maestro made his youngest daughter–Adriana–leave the table. She’d merely said that she adored her new shoes; she thought they were divine. He said that those were religious words and that they had nothing to do with shoes. He turned to me and said that they had nothing to do with human beings either. He warned me to beware of husbands and wives who adored one another. Such persons haven’t grown up, he said. No human being is adorable. The early Hebrews were quite right to condemn idolatry. Women who adore their husbands throw a thousand little ropes around them. They rob them of their freedom. They lull them to sleep. It’s wonderful to own a god, to put him in your pocket.” (p. 272)
One day, Lily Ashely, the oldest daughter of the Ashley family, after moving to Chicago also talks with her music teacher about adoration. Lily’s mom, Beata, adored her husband–so this conversation is decently relevant to her.
Wilder really hits a chord with me in speaking about this. Idolatry is something so easy to fall prey to. I love reading, which is a good in itself, but I can go overboard and covet different books and desire just the possession of the physical objects, as opposed to the knowledge and love that God gives me with these books. There are other examples, but I think Wilder is right to separate Adoration as something purely divine, not for us humans.
Bensonian on Chapter 3 Chicago
- I. “The Elms” 1885-1905
- II. Illinois to Chile 1902-1905
- IV. Hoboken, New Jersey 1883
- V. “St. Kitts” 1880-1905
- VI. Coaltown, Illinois, Christmas 1905