by Rebecca Stibrik
Love is a funny thing. While many have tried, no one can find a way to completely explain all of its workings and implications. Throughout literature, we see love portrayed in many different ways. In some cases, the element of surprise is used to make the romance more interesting. One such case is “A Sweatshop Romance” by Abraham Cahan, where we see the main character, Beile, change from loving one man to loving a completely different one. Likewise, in “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” by D.H. Lawrence, we follow Mabel, a lost young woman who falls in love in a very spontaneous manner. Throughout both of these stories, the authors successfully surprise their readers and leave us wondering: just who will end up with who?
When reading “A Sweatshop Romance,” the surprise is in Beile’s unforeseen shift of emotions. During the beginning of the story, it is quickly established that Beile and Heyman are in a relationship. Beile even goes so far as to mentally declare herself to be in love with him, thinking to herself that “She loved him. She liked his blooming face…she was fond of his company” (Cahan 5). Likewise, Heyman feels strongly for her and “the proposal lay on the tip of his tongue” (Cahan 6). Upon reading all of this, we logically assume that Heyman and Beile are going to be together by the end of the story. After all, the author has laid all the clues for that conclusion. However, we later witness Beile get treated very rudely by her boss’s wife when she is asked to run an errand, “paraded before the strangers as a domestic,” and insulted (Cahan 7). During this incident, Heyman fails to speak up on her behalf, and this cowardice later costs him. David, who also likes Beile, comes to her defense instead (Cahan 8). As a result of this, we find out that Heyman stays away for a while as he is afraid of facing Beile after not helping her, even though he is “panting to see her”(Cahan 8). Meanwhile, David and Beile gradually get closer and even become engaged. With this, the author has completely changed the ending from what we were expecting.
In the beginning, the scene was set to have an ordinary love story, where a couple gets married and settles down. The author instead deals us out a surprise. He provides the characters with a simple test. One passes it, while the other does not. What one expects is that the man who has been with Beile and supposedly loves her would come to her aid. It is the tipping point for the rest of what happens. We expect Heyman to step up for Beile, not only because he is in a relationship with her, but also because he comes to her defense earlier when she’s being poked at by their boss’ son (Cahan 6). He appears to be the perfect person to defend her. Instead, he does nothing, except “[await] still more painful developments” while his “heart [shrinks] at the awkwardness of his situation” (Cahan 7). Worse than that, he continues to display cowardice by being afraid to even see Beile.
David, on the other hand, is initially portrayed to be rather meek, as he sits “silently plying his needle” (Cahan 2). He simply sits at his table, working and minding his own business until he rises to Beile’s defense, saying “don’t go, Beile!” (Cahan 7) and “don’t mind her Beile, and never worry” (Cahan 8). Unlike Heyman, he shows courage in his willingness to stand up for the girl he loves, in spite of the danger of losing his job. He appears to be a foil for Heyman in that the situation that brings out his strength is the very one that brings out Heyman’s weakness. It is also unexpected that the characters remain in these new roles, rather than reverting back to their former roles. Beile and David stay together, and the man who looked as if he would be the hero and the winner instead loses the girl.
Like “A Sweatshop Romance,” “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” also portrays a man coming to a woman’s rescue, although in much more dire circumstances. Mabel is in a tragic place in her life. She sees herself losing everything. She has lost her parents, and now she is losing both her house and her status. As a result of this, Mabel reaches her breaking point. She cannot take it anymore and, in her despair, tries to drown herself. Her attempt is foiled, however, when the young Dr. Ferguson witnesses this from a higher vantage point and descends to save her (Lawrence 438). He quickly hauls her out of the water, and proceeds to take her to her house and begin caring for her (Lawrence 439). When she wakes up, she asks if he loves her, and both the reader and the doctor are surprised. The doctor even thinks that “he had never thought of loving her” (Lawrence 440). After pondering the situation, they both feel that they are in love with each other. This surprisingly quick exchange is precisely what makes this story so unexpected.
When this story began, most readers would never know that it was going to be a love story. Although it is sudden and unexpected, Mabel and the doctor fall in love. Prior to this, we see Mabel as a girl who has fallen on rough times, and who hasn’t known love for many years. This is because her mother, the only one who she felt ever loved her, died a long time ago. Her father also died recently, and her brothers do not treat her well, often calling her names such as “bull-dog” (Lawrence 432) and “[talking] at her and around her” (Lawrence 433). After enduring such an unfortunate life for so long, it is surprising that Mabel would even be open to the idea of romance. Yet, despite this, she is the one who first brings up the question of love between her and Dr. Ferguson (Lawrence 440). Even though she has just made an attempt to end her life, she appears to be ready to start a new one with the doctor.
In addition to the suddenness of the situation, the social differences between these two make their romance even more unexpected. While these two people have known each other, they have never had a connection. Mabel has always been rather haughty about her social status, until its recent decline. Dr. Ferguson, on the other hand, is your typical mild-mannered doctor. Because of this, they appear to be a rather unlikely couple, and yet they are infatuated so suddenly. Both are on somewhat heighted emotions after the experience of Mabel’s drowning attempt, feeling “amazed, bewildered and afraid” (Lawrence 440) and crying “tears of consciousness” (Lawrence 442). They have gone through a difficult and emotional experience together, making them closer. They are also responding to Mabel’s lack of affection. Mabel has felt unloved for much of her life, and feels the need for it. The doctor, in turn, feels compelled to fill the void and give her his love.
No two stories are ever exactly the same, even if they are love stories. In this case, both authors made the pairings in their stories unexpected. In “A Sweatshop Romance” it was the way a meek character stood up for the girl, and our surprise was who she was with at the end. In “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” it is the suddenness of the events that makes it surprising. Not only do these unexpected twists make their stories more interesting, but also somewhat more believable. After all, life is full of surprises. This just goes to show that in literature, as well as life, you can never quite predict the end.
Cahan, Abraham. “A Sweatshop Romance.” Blackboard. Marymount University. 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Lawrence, D.H. “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Eds. Richard Bausch and R.V. Cassill. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2006, 431-443. Print.