“The Hand” As A Border Of Love
As a child, I always imagined how marriage life would be like. It would be sweet to wake up in the morning lying next to someone you dearly love. However, as I grew up, I began to realize that pursuing happiness in a marriage was not as simple as I imagined. In the real world marriage does not always work to one’s expectations. It has its own share of difficulties shortcomings. This aspect of marriage is best exemplified in Sidone-Gabrielle Collette’s short story “The Hand.” The story begins with a scene where a young bride is lying awake beside her sleeping husband at midnight. Their marriage is only two weeks old and she is curious to know her unconsciously asleep husband. He is asleep with one hand holding her tightly. In her curiosity, she decides to take advantage of his unconsciousness to surreptitiously observe him closely. Surprisingly, it is his hand that attracts her attention more than any other part of his body. The whole story focuses on the various ways she perceives and describes her husband’s hand. The author has used the title “The Hand” in the story as a form of symbolism. Knowing the meaning of the husband’s hand is therefore important in understanding the central theme of the story. The young wife is aware of the fact that even in her comfort zone, which has the potential to cloud her judgment, she is afraid of the hand, a symbol of male dominance, in her new life.
There is indeed a strong relationship between the symbolism and the wife’s feelings. Throughout the story, she describes the husband’s hand both positively and negatively for instance it is described as having “warmth” (182) and also “monstrous” (183). The two adjectives represent her feelings towards her new life, which illustrates the unusual condition she has found herself in. Although the story seems to focuses primarily on symbolism of love and fear, it also embodies a more significant aspect which is the power of male dominance. In my opinion, male dominance is the main reason why Colette uses the hand as a symbol in this story. The wife’s fear comes from the unusual feelings about the husband’s dominance mainly because she is not accustomed to this kind of domination as Collette states:
“So that whenever she lay awake beside her husband, like tonight, she still kept her eyes closed for a long time, then opened them again in order to savor, with astonishment, the blue of the brand-new curtains, instead of the apricot-pink through which the first light of day filtered into the room where she had slept as a little girl” (181).
She keeps closing her eyes to recall her old-girly life, where she could live freely without being dominated by anyone. This attitude reflects the fact that she is actually unprepared for marriage life.
One might ask what sort of dominance is actually does she see developing in the marriage. When the husband holds her tightly, she feels like she is “lying on some animal” (182). She describes the hand in such brute terms because of the husband’s unbearable power of lust and an insatiable his sex appetite. This is especially because he is a widow and tennis player who is more powerful and with more experience in sex. Furthermore, as she can not stand it, she sees the “wallowing hand revealed its fleshy palm like a red belly,” which is her image of a swollen red belly caused by pregnancy. She is, ironically, not enjoying the sex and not ready to get pregnant, as she still considers her husband a stranger. It is actually natural for her to have such bizarre feelings as she has not had sufficient time to know him better. She meets “a handsome, blond young man, recently widowed, good at tennis and rowing, to marry him a month later” (181). In such a short period, she definitely does not even get the chance to become a close friend to him.
The nature of their relationship is not as smooth as that of many couples. Her fear creates a gap between their intimacies. However, she never regrets her marriage and always tries to hide her fear whenever she is with him. This is significantly symbolized from her kiss at the end of the story, where she “humbly kissed the monstrous hand” (183). Colette tries to emphasize the wife’s anxiety by using the adjective “monstrous” to describe the husband’s hand. The wife uses this kiss as a mask to cover her fear. She tries to play her role as a wife by kissing the hand, so that her husband would not realize anything about her fears and doubts. Although the wife is currently in the midst of discomfort, where she can not fully enjoy marriage life, she is trying to find her comfort zone, where she can eventually love him without being bordered by her fear.
While she is having internal conflicts inside her mind, the hand suddenly distracts her. It “disappeared and a moment later the big arm, relieved of its burden, became a protective belt, a warm bulwark against all the terror of night” (182). In this part, Colette shows us the wife’s love, despite all her negative judgments. Somewhere in her heart, she actually feels the warmth of his touch as a husband. A spasm of comfort appears because she actually truly loves her husband, even though the love is somehow limited by her fear of him. However, this spasm of comfort is still not enough to erase the ‘stranger’ figure he represents in her life. Only time and romance could certainly grow their love, erase her fear, and teach them the true meaning of marriage. Perhaps later on, the wife could truly kiss her husband’s hand without feeling any fear. And when that time comes, her judgment of the ‘monstrous’ hand would definitely change into the ‘lovely’ hand.