Carson McCullers takes the reader on a journey into the lives of a family plagued by alcoholism in “A Domestic Dilemma”. The realism of the story is astounding, as most people will often find themselves torn when facing difficult family decisions. The Meadows family is torn by both compassion and suffering, and Martin Meadows is faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his life. In A Domestic Dilemma, the author conveys the idea that individuals facing difficult decisions in marital relationships must act in the best interest of ones self.
The conflicts in the story surround Martin and Emilys marital relationship. It is clear that their marriage is deteriorating because of Emilys alcoholism. Emily often attempts to hide her drinking from her husband and when Martin inquires about his wifes earlier drinking, she responds “Because I drink a couple of sherries in the afternoon youre trying to make me out a drunkard.” in a sharp, unforgiving tone. Martin becomes frustrated knowing that he is not able to trust his own wife with any responsibilities around the house because of her intoxication, “If you could only realize how sick I am – how bad it is for all of us.” He pleads with Emily and tries to calm her often, but underneath his calm and passive mask Martins fear and worry for his children causes him to despise Emilys behavior. “His youth was being frittered away by a drunkards waste, his very manhood subtly undermined.” Two events that worried Martin the most were when Emily was making cinnamon toast for the children, she accidentally used cayenne instead of cinnamon. Their son, Andy, took a bite of the toast and cried because it burned his mouth. The other mistake that Emily made was while bathing her baby, she dropped Marianne and cut the childs fragile head on a table. Because of Emilys ignorance and drinking her baby daughter could have died or been seriously injured. Martin Meadows also faces another conflict. His heart is wrenched in turmoil as he struggles with the decisions that may force him to choose between his love for his children and his love for his wife. The devotion that Martin feels towards his children is evident throughout “A domestic Dilemma”. He views his childrens faces as “radiant as flower petals, equally loved.” Also illustrating his love for his children, Martin “kissed the tiny hand that lay palm upward.” Although Martin and Emilys marriage is covered in a heavy blanket of stress, it is obvious that Martin still loves his wife. “As Martin watched the tranquil slumber of his wife the ghost of the old anger vanished.” He knows that his emotional and physical desire for Emily may be the very element that destroys his childrens lives. Martin is searching for a solution to his problems that will keep all his loved ones safe.
Martin Meadows is an ideal husband. He works hard in his office and his home. Martin is amazingly efficient, tending to the garden, decorating for Christmas, cooking for his children, and pulling their lose teeth. He longs for the days back in Alabama when his family was happy and alcohol was not a part of their lives. From the start of the story Martin is weary from the disappointment he has encountered in the changes seen in his wife. During Domestic Dilemma Martin begins to realize that his efforts are no use, and his wifes behavior is not going to change before something horrible happens to one of his children. Her drunken outbursts and manipulative games confuse the children at their young ages, and Martin fears that his children will not forget these horrible incidents and will grow up emotionally strained by their mothers problem.
Emilys move to New York tore her life apart. Once a happy housewife in Alabama, When her family moved to New York for her husbands company, Emily become lonely and depressed. Emily misses the warmth of a small southern town where she was surrounded by friends and family. Alcohol became Emilys escape from her boredom and loneliness. She drinks during the day when Martin is at his office, and tries to conceal it from him when he returns home. Emily is in denial of her drinking problem, and has great paranoia that her family is judging her. “Why I dont even touch whiskey. As well you know. I dont swill liquor at bars. And thats more than you can say.” She makes personal attacks on her husband in attempt to distract him from her obvious condition. Emily loves her children, and underneath her airy show of vivacity, she is aware that she had disappointed her family when Martin is forced to hire a maid to care for Andy and Marianne. Emily takes advantage of the fact that her children are still young, and she does not believe that her behavior will affect them permanently. She frightens the children with emotional intoxicated outbursts where her paranoia is clear. “Listen my Andy – you wouldnt listen to any lies you father tells you? You wont believe what he says?” (page 420 Story and Structure) and “Dont think I dont see through your dirty plots and schemes. Down here trying to turn my own children against me.” Emilys new found escape from loneliness is causing problems, not solving them.
“A Domestic Dilemma” is set in the Meadows household, the battleground of all their problems. Martins surroundings “seemed vast and somehow desolate” very similar to his marriage. Many of the outbursts and vital events such as Emily putting cayenne on the toast, take place in the kitchen. This adds to the realism of the story because kitchens are very central places in most homes where various discussions and most of the action takes place. The kitchen is often the only room where a whole family will meet at one time. Two event takes place in the houses bathroom. The incident of Emily bathing Marianne and dropping her, and also the loving and careful bath Martin gives his children, and pulling Andys tooth. The setting for these events creates a comparison. It shows that while Emily is careless and dangerous, Martin is loving and protective.
The ending of this story is very significant at the moment when Martin makes his choice. Martin paces around his kitchen seething in anger. He pictures the events that are sure to come in time; the gossip at his office and the degradation of his children, all because of Emilys alcoholism. Martin goes to his bedroom and “Little by little, mysteriously, there came in him a change.” The moments surrounding Martins decision are very tranquil, as he has finally resolved the internal conflict that has been torturing him for months. “For the first time that evening he looked at his wife” (line 99) and “By moonlight he watched his wife for the last time.” (line 107) Signify the start and finish of the most important time in the couples marriage. Martin sees his wife, perception of her not clouded by her drinking for once, and free of anger he makes his decision. His love for her is more evident than ever as Carson McCullers implies that Martin Meadows is going to leave his wife. Martins spirit returns as he decides that his own happiness is very important to him. The moment is beautifully depicted, and the reader becomes aware that Martin is making this decision in the best interest of himself and his children. “His hand sought the adjacent flesh and sorrow paralleled desire in the immense complexity of love.”
“A Domestic Dilemma” by Carson McCullers shows the importance of making the right choices. The story shows the consequences and suffering that will result from neglecting your own spirit and your own needs. The main character, Martin, sacrificed his marital relationship in the best interests of himself and his children. “A Domestic Dilemma” is a startling wake-up call with a powerful message about how love can stray people from making decisions in their best interests.