Short Story Essay Example: The Moving Finger



In the short story, The Moving Finger, Edith Wharton portrays the relationship between the painting of Mrs. Grancy and Claydon as obsessive, exploitive, and one sided.

Soon after Mrs. Grancy dies, the narrator sees Claydon and the painting of Mrs. Grancy and notes a vast difference in her painting. Claydon had repainted “every trace” of Mrs. Grancy. This must have taken hours, and, realistically speaking, only someone who is obsessed with a painting would take the time and effort of painting every trace of her for a third time. While readers may argue that this is similar to a ‘restoration’ of sorts and brush it off as just that, upon further investigation into the text, it is clear that this isn’t the case. In the sentences following the narrator’s discovery of the painting, he realizes that the entire room was a “tributary” to this painting. So, not only did Claydon put in the work in order to return the painting to its original state, but he also made his room a sort of shrine for her. This is the behavior, not of someone who is restoring a painting, but that of someone who has an obsession.

Additionally, Wharton portrays the relationship with the painting as exploitive. However, in this way, he isn’t only affecting the painting, as he first exploits Mr. Grancy after getting his hands on the painting. By changing the painting Mr. Grancy so dearly loved, Claydon exploits the trust Mr. Grancy had for him. Furthermore, he simply uses her painting for the aesthetics, unlike Mr. Grancy who had an emotional bond with the painting. Claydon's treatment of the painting is awfully similar to how most men at the time the short story related to women. They were to be seen, just like the painting of Mrs. Grancy, and they were treated as if they had no purpose.

This leads to the fact that Claydon has little to no respect for Mrs. Grancy’s painting as well. Love typically comes with respect, yet Claydon’s relationship with the painting is devoid of this. Despite this, Mrs. Grancy's portrait was “the woman he loved.” But if he truly loved her, he would have respected what she had told him. According to Claydon himself, the painting of Mrs. Grancy told him that, “I am not yours.” Yet, Claydon acts as if this didn’t happen after the death of Mr. Grancy. He even goes so far as to outright ask “Doesn’t she belong to me now?” And while Wharton withholds the answer, the thought is left to linger in the mind of the reader. Was she aware that Mr. Grancy had died? No information given to us from Mrs. Grancy’s painting ever suggests that she was, however Claydon’s actions do.

The clash in these two voices may leave readers in confusion, but there is an answer. With no confirmation from Mrs. Grancy, it is only reasonable to conclude that she is not his. Not in life and not in death. To assume otherwise would be to disregard Mrs. Grancy as a character. Due to this fact, Claydon simply uses her painting to fill in gaps in his fantasy, one that he could not have lived with the real Mrs. Grancy. 

Specific Wording Usage

Furthermore, Edith Wharton uses specific wording to hint at this in the relationship Claydon has with the painting. According to the narrator, Claydon had “effaced” the painting of Mrs. Grancy, the connotation of the word effaced being that the act of him repainting her was a crime. The use of this word gives the reader deeper knowledge of the relationship than Wharton simply stating that he had repainted it. It insinuates that what he had done was an act of vandalism, one that was not only against the will of Mr. Grancy but that of Mrs. Grancy as well. This furthers the fact that he has no respect for the painting, and a relationship without respect isn’t actually a relationship at all. 

His exploitation of the painting ties into Wharton’s representation of the relationship as one sided, too.  Since Mrs. Grancy’s painting is being exploited, she isn’t, and really can’t be active in the relationship.Throughout the story, Mr. Grancy refers to “we,” meaning him and his wife. They are one another’s, in both life and in death. But when it comes to Claydon, the same isn’t true. This is important to note due, once again, to the time period the story is set in. In the time period, women were seen as merely objects, as nothing more than a pretty face. And, the fact of the matter is that one cannot belong to an object.

Knowing this, assumptions can be made about the two relationships. For example, since Mr Grancy consistently referred to we, readers can infer that he sees Mrs. Grancy –and even the painting of Mrs. Grancy– as more than just an object. Based on this knowledge, the opposite can be said of Claydon, as he sees the painting of her as his. He sees her painting as just an object. Not once does he mention him belonging to her simply because he isn’t, nor can he be. Not when she was alive, and certainly not when she is dead, and nothing more to him than an object.

Through her specific word choice and the actions of Claydon, Edith Wharton shows readers how truly obsessive and exploitive Claydon’s relationship –or really, lack thereof– with the painting of Mrs. Grancy is.