THE HERO who doubts the love, loyalty, fidelity, etc., of a friend or dear one is the subject of a slick story-type which is quite unique. Most popular fiction problems are resolved through a good deal of talk and/or action between characters. But, because of the nature of his problem, the doubting hero is isolated-at least as far as his problem itself is concerned. Oftentimes, the doubting hero's problem is born, flourishes, and dies without another character in the story having been aware that any problem existed. From nowhere-or better, from everywhere, a dark doubt gathers in the mind of a recently married young man that the child his wife has just borne him is not his own. From the start of his marriage, the hero had suspicions that his bride was not so much in love with him as with her former sweetheart. And, now, the other man's name is always on her lips. The ex-lover pays the couple frequent visits and professes friendship for the husband which the husband feels is feigned so that the fellow may be near his wife.
To make matters worse, the child was born in its eighth month. If actually the child was not premature, it was conceived in the husband's absence. All these factors prey on the husband's mind, each adding weight to the other. The husband has worked himself into such a state that he lies awake nights listening for whatever evidence his wife might let slip in her sleep. And when she is awake, he lays subtle verbal traps for her. But always her answers are ambiguous. He is waiting only for a trifle stronger proof to confront her with her infidelity.
One matter bothers him particularly. The infant is about to be christened, and the wife has been unable to decide upon a name for the child. The husband feels certain that this indecision reflects guilt on the wife's part. The day for the christening arrives. Because all the attention is being focused on the infant, the husband's anguish reaches its peak. The family goes to the church. Then, at the very last moment, just as the minister asks for the chosen name, the wife realizes what it should be: the same as the husband's. Instantly, the husband's doubts dissolve. The fact that his wife has chosen his name for the infant reassures him completely. The christening, of course, is the gimmick. As unlikely as this resolution sounds in outline form, it nevertheless was original. And originality in gimmicks can often compensate nicely, not only for an otherwise ordinary story but for actual logical weaknesses in the gimmick itself. A cute twist was used in this one.
A young husband at last receives the important business promotion he and his wife had so long been anticipating. On his way home from the office on the day he first has learned of the promotion, the husband decides to see how his wife would act if she thought he didn't get the promotion. He fears that she might well show herself to be quite a different person if he were to fail to go ahead in the business world. He arrives home and sits down to dinner without telling his wife a thing about the promotion, only to find that she has prepared a very special meal. He wonders if she somehow could have learned the good news from some other source than himself, but still he does not tell her-until she caps the feast with a bottle of champagne. After he has made the announcement, the wife fishes into one of the two pockets of her apron, takes out a card and attaches it to the champagne bottle. It reads: "For the winner-with all my love." Later on in the evening, he sees her surreptitiously dispose of another card from the other apron pocket. He recovers the card from the garbage. It reads: "For the loser-better luck next time- with all my love."
When the writer has as tricky a gimmick as this at hand, he can relax. In fact, he should strive to otherwise plot the story simply. The writing should be as plain as bread. It's safest to work in no gratuitous tricks as the story progresses; they would only lessen the effect of the main trick, assuming it's a good one, of course. Conversely, when the gimmick in a story-form demanding gimmicks is flimsy, the writer must fill in with warm sentimental touches, impressive writing, "pseudo-psychological" insights or any of the other dodges that serve to hide the weakness. Here is an example of such a lamely plotted piece. A young woman is married to an architect who has recently been forced to spend a good many evenings away from home working on plans for a house he is designing for a local, very wealthy divorcee. During his continued absences, she allows herself to imagine that all sorts of intricate cunning schemes are being fashioned by the divorcee to win her husband away from her.
One evening she works herself into a frantic state. Finally, though, the architect-husband gets home, and just because her doubt and suspicion has reached such a high pitch she finds herself watching every expression and listening to every word of his with the greatest care. And as she observes him, she begins to appreciate what a calm, level-headed, loyal fellow he really is-quite incapable of falling for the tricks of any woman as unscrupulous and flighty as the divorcee. She then looks into her heart and discovers that her suspicions have arisen because she has been too dependent on him, too dependent on his fidelity. A more self-reliant wife could never have so mistaken her husband's character, she feels.
This kind of thing is "pseudo-psychological " insight. A more sophisticated (although perhaps no truer) explanation for unfounded jealousy is the tricky mental phenomenon Freudians call "projection." The mechanics of guilt-projection are interesting. It seems that the suspicious party feels himself guilty of the vice or failing he ascribes to the suspected party, but he is unwilling to accept the guilt consciously. So, instead of acknowledging the aggression his conscience is directing toward himself, he will redirect it toward the party he feels has been injured by his vice.
To put the thing concretely, an unfaithful husband (unfaithful in either wish or deed) is quite likely to feel that his wife has been unfaithful to him, although the suspicion has no basis in fact. Now, whether mechanics of Freudian psychology as subtle as this can be sold to a slick audience is an open question. I 've never seen it accomplished. So, perhaps it is wiser for the writer to stay with the more facile interpretations of human behavior exemplified in the above story-if the writer cares to go into the matter of motivation at all.