The Home-Maker (Dorothy Canfield, 1924)

A family of five are just scraping by on the income made by the father — an absent-minded if big hearted man, with a passion for poetry but few marketable skills. The mother cares deeply for her children and is more than willing to sacrifice her life for them, but she is not the mothering type. The mental strain of trying to be a homemaker is killing her.

Father is fired from his job. He’s all too cognizant that he’s failed his family and that he’ll only go on to keep failing them. All he has to give them that’s worth anything is his $10,000 life insurance policy. He contrives to “accidentally” fall from the roof. However, he’s a failure even at suicide and only manages to paralyze himself.

After their meager savings run out, Mother applies for an entry-level job at the same department store her husband had worked for. She gets the job, excels at it, and is quickly promoted through the ranks. She begins bringing in more than twice the income Father had and expects further advancement. Her health and mood improves.

Father, bedridden, is stuck in the house. He gets to know his children in a way he never had before, particularly the youngest, with whom he forms a particular bond. As his health improves and he’s able to get around in a wheelchair, he takes on the housework and childrearing and finds that he enjoys doing it. The children, always of delicate health and in a constant state of cowed, silent awe by their mother’s overbearing, begin to blossom under their father’s care.

The physical cause of Father’s paralysis has passed, and although he remains for a time wheelchair bound from psychosomatic reasons, he and Mother eventually realize that he is able to walk. Both know that society will dictate that he go back to work and she return home. Depression. Mother, to her own horror, finds herself plotting a murder-suicide. The doctor is called. He has also realized what will happen to the family if it returns to its previous structure. After a long, closed-doors consultation with Father, he emerges to tell the others the bad news that Father will never leave his wheelchair again.


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