More than just a house?

Objects throughout The Return of the Soldier symbolize ideas, mirror and elaborate on the characters, and act as catalysts. Margaret’s “unpardonable raincoat” is a physical manifestation of her poverty and separation from the Baldry’s upper class. The nymph in its black bowl represents Chris, or perhaps more accurately, Jenny’s perception of Chris and his thoughts. The picture of Oliver sparked Margaret’s idea to heal Chris, and the boy’s ball and clothing held the power to remind Chris of all he had forgotten. Though they possess many smaller objects with additional meaning, the homes of Baldry Court and Mariposa are a helpful representation of the people who live in them and they way in which they live.

Baldry Court is presented as a magnificent home at the outset of the novel. Kitty and Jenny have painstakingly decorated each room to satisfy the finest tastes and trends. The house exudes the rank of those who inhabit it, and even the boarder around the home, as described by Jenny, “proclaims that here we estimate only controlled beauty, that the wild will not have its way within our gates, that it must be made delicate and decorated into felicity” (Pg. 90). In this house, Kitty and Jenny tried to seclude themselves from the reality of life outside its walls. They attempt to produce a haven where Chris’s happiness is inevitable, believing their creation to be that “one little part of the world that was…good enough for his amazing goodness” (Pg. 50). Yet when Chris returned from the war, the changes they made caused him to stumble; he did not recognize his home just as he did not recognize his wife (Pg. 65). All Kitty’s efforts to maintain an image of class and happiness failed to preserve her marriage – a façade was simply not enough.

Mariposa, like its inhabitants, is the opposite of Baldry Court. It is one of many identical “brick boxes” on a mundane row, and it even lacks an almond tree, the one aesthetic feature of the street (Pg. 80). Margaret herself admits, “It is a horrid little house” (Pg. 84). Yet inside, Jenny finds all the objects mentioned in Chris’s descriptions of Monkey Island. Margaret has carried the decorations and possessions along with her, and this manages to transport even her skeptical visitor to the past. Just like her home, Margaret is consistent. She pursues truth and kindness always, whether in her dealings with the Baldry’s, with the families she served, or with her old and clumsy husband. Though the location of her home has changed, just as her beauty has faded, she remains the same. Chris knew that she would not – could not – change, and he was right. Jenny, despite whatever jealousy she felt, took note early on of “this woman whose personality was sounding through her squalor like a beautiful voice singing in a darkened room” (Pg. 82). This consistency and commitment to truth and righteousness lead Margaret to make the difficult choice of honesty in the end, despite her personal hopes and desires. Though she was not much to look at, Margaret held goodness and strength within her walls. She was the constant thread in Chris’s memory, and she possessed the power and courage to take action while Kitty looked on from her lofty window, looking exquisite on the outside but requiring Margaret’s action to fill her pretty shell.

4 thoughts on “More than just a house?

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