Appearance can be deceiving at times because even the happiest couples may be collapsing from the inside. Katharine Brush writes in her short story about a seemingly happy couple where the wife has prepared a surprise birthday party for her beloved husband. However, her husbands ungratefulness and cruelty devastate the wife. Through the use of repetition, symbolism, imagery, and detailed description, Brush suggests that a song or birthday cake cannot significantly hide a broken marriage and an ungrateful husband.
Brush has used symbolism in the form of a birthday cake to symbolize the noble intentions of a wife to make the husbands birthday unforgettable. In the story, Brush says, it arrived in the form of a small but glossy birthday cake (Brush 6). It came, but it was not what the wife expected. The pink color of the candle at the center of the cake is also symbolic. The author says that the cake arrived with one pink candle burning in the center (Brush 6). It symbolizes the wife and her devotion to please her husband. The wife is on a mission to make her husbands birthday exceptional, only for the husband to react with anger. The pink candle shows that the wife is the only person in the relationship, who tries to please the husband but he does nothing in return.
Furthermore, the writer used vivid description to introduce the couple and the situation in detail. They are described as couple in their thirties and unmistakenly married (Brush 1). She starts by giving a description of their physical characteristics and then takes the reader to the restaurant where the birthday is being celebrated. Brush provides a fascinating description of the situation in detail so that the reader is placed on the authors shoes hearing every clap, smelling the burning candle, and viewing every expression. Through this, the author purposely coveys the cruelty of the husband to the point of evoking sympathy and disgust from the reader.
Another literary device used by Brush is a repetition of sounds and phrases that add sadness to the situation of the wife. Her plans are pejoratively presented as little surprises which make them seem unimportant when they are everything to her. The audience cannot help but smile when the wife beams with shy pride over her little surprise (Brush 10). The repetition of little (Brush 1, 15) suggests the that the husband lacks respect for the wifes effort and depict his cruel rejection later in the short story.
Brush also uses the point of view narration where the reader is kept and reserved for the events in the story. Here, the reader is not able to reach the thoughts of the couple and merely observes the situation unfold and cannot do anything about it. This literary device is used to achieve the authors purpose of being the observer and frustrates the reader and keeps the distance between the narrator and the abused woman.
Brush has also used imagery in her short story to convey her displeasure for patriarchal nature of the society and for husbands who lack appreciation. For instance, Brush says, the man had a self-satisfied face (Brush 3) shows a sense of arrogance and pulls the reader away from the man. Contrastively, the woman was fadingly pretty (Brush 3) expresses her kindness and a woman eager to please her husband. She is said to have beamed with shy pride (Brush 10), which also complements her warmth. Also, the hat worn by the wife is used metaphorically to show the extent of her abusive relationship. The metaphor, crying quietly and heartbrokenly and hopelessly, all to herself, under the gay big brim of her best hat (Brush 20-21) shows how she is sad and embarrassed. All she does is to cover herself with a cheerful demeanor to celebrate her husbands birthday.
Lack of respect and insensitivity destroy relationships and marriages. The husband in the short story is utterly cruel and rejects his wifes kindness. The surprise birthday party indicates that the wife is attempting to convince herself and the audience that she has a healthy marriage, but it is clear that she is facing rejection.
Brush, Katharina. "The Birthday Party." The New Yorker. The New Yorker: New York, 1946. Print.
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