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Christopher Keating1/22/18Section 1237Dr. Ross English 2Pyschopath or Spouse?The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw is a short story about the beginning of the end for a couple.  It documents the exact moment that both Michael and Frances, the main characters, realise that the marriage and bond they committed to each other may have not been as strong as they previously thought.  The reasoning behind this, is that Michael is a psychopath.  The words used to describe Michaels behavior and his word choice almost suggests it.  Michaels character is calculating throughout the story and evidence suggests a lack of empathy.Frances smiles, laughs, cries, and is overall more animated than Michael throughout the story.  The only dialogue queues that are ever used for Michael when he is speaking to Frances are “said,” “asked,” and “called.”  Michael ‘says’ almost every piece of dialogue he has, giving him a very monotone projection in contrast to Frances.  This only begins after he is caught looking at a woman in the beginning of the story, to which he tries to manipulate his way out trouble by saying, “It was the complexion. It’s not the sort of complexion you see much in New York. Excuse me” (Shaw).  Michael has no shame and doesn’t apologize for his actions.  In fact on multiple occasions, he says excuse me instead of apologizing.  This implies he wishes his actions to be dismissed as tolerable behavior.  Many psychopaths aren’t violent, however they are manipulative and show no remorse for their actions or have shame.  Michael has little concern of how his actions affect his wife, and he doesn’t care what he says to her.  Normally, if you get caught looking at another woman you apologize, instead he chooses to say why he did it and that he liked her.  In fact, Michael is even frustrated with how Frances reacts to this conversation, as later, “Michael sighed and closed his eyes and rubbed them gently with his fingertips” (Shaw).  Michael even later confesses to planning to cheat in the future.  Michael is cold and cruel almost to Frances in the end, as his brutal honesty hurts her and he does not seem to care.  But just because Michael behaves strangely does this mean he is a psychopath?Before examining further in-text evidence, we must consider what a psychopath is.  According to Carole Wade and Carol Tavris in Psychology: Twelfth Edition, “psychopathy describes individuals who are heartless, who utterly lack conscience, and are unable to feel normal emotions.  Psychopaths are incapable of not only remorse but fear of punishment and of shame, guilt, and empathy for those they hurt” (Wade & Tavris 558).  To relate this to The Girls in Their Summer Dresses, we can look carefully at Michaels word choices when addressing his wife.  Michael refers to Frances as, “the woman I like” when he is trying to convince her he is the envy of all men in New York.  The only time Michael ever says he loves Frances is when she directly asks him if he loves her, to which he replies, “I love you, but I also want them. Okay” (Shaw).  Michael never shows his wife the affection you would expect to see in a marriage.  Perhaps this was a different time, when men and women’s roles in marriage were different, and the intimacy was on a different scale.The Girls in Their Summer Dresses takes place in the mid to late 20th Century.  This means that gender roles have evolved to a point at which marriage is no longer a required thing (Rampage).  According to Dr. Cheryl Rampage, “Men do accept that marriage to a woman who assumes she is your equal partner means having to collaborate on almost every decision you make, from whether to take a job in a different city to whose turn it is to do dishes” (Rampage).  What Dr. Rampage means by this is that during this time period, feminism had reached a point in its existence where women were no longer seen as property but as partners.  Dr. Rampage goes on to say, “The divorce rate in this country is hovering at 50%.  But not only are couples ending their marriages in higher frequencies than ever, in increasing numbers they are also entering into coupled relationships that exist outside the structure of traditional marriage” (Rampage).  As noted women are no longer tied into marriages that aren’t beneficial to them.  It is socially acceptable to sever ties with your awful husband and live a free single life by providing for yourself.  So what is it that keeps Frances around, if Michael is a psychopath?  Michael in his nature is calculating, and he knows how to manipulate Frances into staying around.  A perfect example of this would be the following exchange:”Hey, let’s have a drink,” Michael said, stopping.”We just had breakfast.””Now, listen, darling,” Mike said, choosing his words with care, “it’s a nice day and we both feel good and there’s no reason why we have to break it up. Let’s have a nice Sunday.””I could have a fine Sunday if you didn’t look as though you were dying to run after every skirt on Fifth Avenue.””Let’s have a drink,” Michael said.”I don’t want a drink.””What do you want, a fight?””No,” Frances said, so unhappily that Michael felt terribly sorry for her. “I don’t want a fight. I don’t know why I started this. All right, let’s drop it. Let’s have a good time.”This exchange occurs directly after Frances insinuates Michael stares at every single woman, and even more so for the pretty ones.  As observed Michael skillfully redirects the the conversation to a point of confrontation at which Frances backs off and the conflict is temporarily offset.  This is a perfect example of how calculated each word Michael speaks is.  He knows she won’t drop the subject so he keeps insisting she have a drink, over and over again.  When she finally says out right no to a drink, he puts the conversation on her head so to speak.  With this in mind we finally understand the power behind every word Michael has.  Michael chooses to not be vocal most of the story so that his words have more value to them when he speaks.  This way he can twist the meaning and emphasis behind his words like a ventriloquist to string along Frances.  However, a ventriloquist would show some sort of empathy if his figure was damaged right?Michaels lack of empathy is the nail in the coffin so to speak.  According to Carole Wade and Carol Tavris, “Their lack of empathy for others also seems to have a physiological basis.  When psychopaths are shown pictures of people crying and in distress, their skin conductance barely shifts, in contrast to that of nonpsychopaths, which shoot up” (Wade & Tavris 559).  From this, we can see a fundamentally physical difference in the nature of empathy among psychopaths compared to nonpsychopaths.  What triggers me to this conclusion as an ultimatum is how Michael reacts to Frances asking him about cheating.  If we observe the following interaction we can see this:”Aren’t you?” Frances asked harshly. “Come on, tell me. Talk. Aren’t you?””Maybe,” Michael said. He moved his chair back again. “How the hell do I know?””You know,” Frances persisted. “Don’t you know?””Yes,” Michael said after a while. “I know.”Frances stopped crying then. Two or three snuffles into the handkerchief and she put it away and her face didn’t tell anything to anybody. “At least do me one favor,” she said.”Sure.””Stop talking about how pretty this woman is, or that one. Nice eyes, nice breasts, a pretty figure, good voice,” she mimicked his voice. “Keep it to yourself. I’m not interested.””Excuse me.” Michael waved to the waiter. “I’ll keep it to myself.”From this exchange we can see the lack of reaction from Michael towards Frances.  He shows a complete lack of empathetic reaction to Frances in anyway shape or form.  As well as this, he even gets frustrated and shows slight aggression towards her with the lines, “How the hell do I know,” and “Excuse me I’ll keep to myself” (Shaw).  Normally in a situation when you confess to future adultery you wouldn’t say, ‘well I guess I just won’t tell you anymore’, with the insinuation you don’t care and will continue.  With this final note it is clear to me what kind of person Michael is.Michael has a complete lack of understanding of his wife’s emotions and needs.  He disregards her feelings, manipulates her with cruel precision.  Each word he speaks has been calculated for maximum effectiveness and he is robotic and cold in his speech.  His actions and behavior state a complete disregard for his wife as well and only seek to benefit his desires.  With this in mind it is clear that Michael is a psychopath.  The unshakable truth is he has something seriously wrong with his wiring in his brain, and it is affecting his wife and their marriage, which we see quickly fall apart in the matter of this short story.  His cold nature has brought about the end of his marriage and he has no one to blame but himself, not that he cares I’m sure.  Work CitedRampage, Cheryl. “Marriage in the 20th Century: A Feminist Perspective.” Ebscohost, EBSCO Publishing, 2007 Jan. 1ADAD, Accessed 2018 Jan. 24ADAD.Wade, Carole Tavris, Carol. Psychology 12th Edition: Pearson Education, 2017. Print.


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