The Richer, The Poorer by Dorothy West
In The Richer, The Poorer by Dorothy West we have the theme of money, selfishness, awareness and change. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator it becomes clear to the reader after reading the story that West is exploring the theme of money. Lottie lives her life in order to save. She may consider herself to be frugal but in reality she may possibly be a mean person. Most likely this meanness is driven by the fact that she had a difficult childhood and does not wish to be poor again. Bess on the other hand lives her life day by day. Never worrying that she might not have enough money to feed herself. She in reality is the complete opposite to Lottie. The fact that Lottie never marries is also interesting as West could be suggesting that Lottie has been too selfish to share her life (and money) with another person. Whereas Bess married Harvey for the right reasons, for love. Something that the reader suspects Lottie has difficulty in understanding because she is so blinded in her pursuit to accumulate wealth.
Lottie’s meanness has affected her personal life. She appears to have no friends. At no stage in the story does West suggest that Lottie has any friends. If anything she keeps to herself more than anything else. Spending as little money as possible in order to save for later on in her life. Which is admirable however Lottie goes to extremes when it comes to saving. She forgoes everything else in life. There is no sense of pleasure in Lottie’s life. Whereas Bess has lived a good but poor life with Harvey. Travelling the world with him as he plays his music. Happy as she goes from country to country without worrying about anything or anybody. If anything though Bess is married she is living more independently than Lottie is. Lottie seems to be chained to her job and her strong desire to save as much money as possible.
Lottie also becomes aware of the fact that she is living a dissatisfied life. When she makes Bess’ room up she realises that she has to do up other rooms in her home in order to make herself feel better. This may be significant as Lottie’s changing of her home is the first time in her life that she has spent money on her home (and on herself). Also by going to the beauty parlour Lottie is attempting to make herself feel better and to give others a different impression of herself. An impression which she believes will also make her feel better than herself. It is for this reason that Lottie is disappointed when Bess makes no comment about her appearance. However it is also important to remember that Bess is grieving the loss of Harvey. She is more preoccupied with this loss than she is on what Lottie looks like.
The end of the story is also interesting as Lottie, though she has all the money she needs, is otherwise an empty vessel. Unlike Bess who has her memories of Harvey and her travels around the world. If anything Lottie understands that she has lived her life in the wrong manner and needs to change. A change that also excites Lottie. Who the reader feels will be okay as long as she keeps Bess by her side. Bess is the impetus for change for Lottie and in many ways acts as a foil to Lottie. A widowed woman with no money is in reality in a more favourable position than Lottie has ever been. Something that Lottie now truly understands. One of the sadness elements of the story is the fact that it took Lottie so long, till she reached her sixties, to realise that she was living her life in a manner that was making her unhappy. However regardless of this the reader knows that it is never too late for Lottie to change her life. She can live the remainder of her days living each day as though it was her last. A complete turnaround from how Lottie had previously lived her life.