The Untold Lie by Sherwood Anderson
In The Untold Lie by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of marriage, responsibility, commitment, happiness, freedom, fear, acceptance, selfishness, control and regret. Taken from his Winesburg, Ohio collection the reader realises after reading the story that Anderson may be exploring the theme of marriage. Hal is in trouble having gotten Nell pregnant. He is also unsure as to whether he should marry Nell. He is committed to living a free life and does not wish to be tied down by Nell. Something that Ray feels is inevitable hence his rushing after Hal to advise him not to marry Nell. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Ray cannot get the words out to tell Hal not to marry Nell. He knows through his own experience that Hal will regret marrying Nell though he is muted when he tries to advise Hal against going ahead with the marriage. Marriage to Ray is about commitment and he regrets the commitment he has made to his wife. Like Hal, Ray got his wife into trouble and decided to marry her but he has been unhappy since day one. He feels as though his freedom has been taken away from him and that he is stuck in the position he finds himself in.
There is also a sense that Ray is living his life vicariously through Hal. He does not wish for Hal to make the same mistake that he has. Though it might be worth noting that Ray has happy memories of his children. So the marriage to his wife is not all bad. There are some happy moments for Ray though he does have to be reminded of this. His bitterness towards his wife however remains as he wholly blames her for trapping him. It is as though Ray is not taking responsibility for his actions. That he does not see that he had a role to play in what has happened to him. This may be important as Anderson may be suggesting that Ray has an inability to not only act responsibly (or at least to accept he must act responsibly) but he may also be selfish. Thinking only of himself and how he wants to live his life. He would much prefer to be a single man though is struck down with fear when it comes to the matter of leaving his wife.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. Ray’s clothes are worn and the cloth that his wife has in her hand is soiled. It is possible that through this imagery Anderson is suggesting that Ray’s marriage too is worn and weary. If anything Ray may feel as though his marriage is lifeless. Similarly the suggestion that old Windpeter died an adventurous death is romanticized by George Willard and Seth Richmond. In many ways this may mirror how Ray originally felt about getting married before his marriage turned sour. For Ray it could have been a glorious death to his single life. Instead it has turned into a chore that is near unbearable for Ray. It would also be true to say that Ray feels henpecked by his wife. Something which would make Ray even more determined to tell Hal not to marry Nell. In reality Ray has no control over his life as he has a responsibility to his family. Though he may not like it or accept it that is the position that Ray finds himself in.
The fact that Ray is unable to give his advice to Hal at the end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that Ray has had an epiphany or moment of realization. Life, particularly with children, might not be all that bad for Ray. Also he has been harsh with his criticism of his wife. Whose own thoughts on the subject of marriage are withheld from the reader. She too may feel as though she is trapped in a loveless marriage. As readers we know that she is struggling (no food for dinner) and that she is reliant on Ray to get the food from town. She has become a mother to her children and it is difficult to say as to whether she remains a wife to Ray in the sense that there may be no love between either of the characters. It is also possible that Ray is allowing for Hal to make his own mistakes. Just as Ray considers his marriage to his wife to be a mistake. If anything the biggest fear that Ray has is with commitment. He feels tied down and though he might have done the right thing and gotten married. He still nonetheless has regrets and wonders about what life might have been like should he have remained single.