Wednesday, December 28, 2016

On reading William Trevor's The Table

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For previous installments of my analysis of William Trevor’s The Collected Stories, please see the side bar. That said, in “The Table,” Trevor deconstructions both stereotype and familial structure. The primary focus of the piece comes in the form of Mr. Jeffs who buys a table from Mrs. Hammond, playing on her emotions and embarrassment at the time, only to sell the very same table back to the woman’s husband, but this time as a gift for Mrs. Galbally, a woman Mrs. Hammond seemingly does not know. At each step he makes a handsome set of money and is openly pleased by the transactions. While the details of all of these relationships remain hidden, the antique dealer concocts elaborate stories to satisfy his otherwise empty life. He needs satisfaction, he needs something to push him forward and maintain his existence: “‘I understand you Mrs. Hammond. I understand all that. I will trade anything on God’s earth, Mrs. Hammond, but I understand that’” (68). Thus he sees both his isolation and his presence as a self-perceived omniscient man. In his mind, he is a judge of sorts.

While a rather simple plot, the focal point is with the antique dealer himself. Mr. Jeffs stands as the stereotypical, Jewish antique dealer. He is portrayed as money grumbling, and seems mostly obsessed with the making the next buck and the next deal. Nothing occupies his life more than work and thus he finds himself living a life that rests only in those enterprises: “Mr. Jeffs saw the figure of himself standing alone in his large Victorian house. Nothing was permanent in the house, not a stick of furniture remained there month by month. He sold and bought again. He laid no carpets, nor would he ever” (67). Mr. Jeffs, who wants to be more, finds that he has nothing to be more with, and in this fact Trevor captivates his reader as he drives them through the man’s wheeling and dealing. Each deal rests in rules. There is money to collect here based on custom and commission. Privacy here, privacy there. And while Mr. Jeffs is privy to all sides of this elaborate table sale and the fictions he has made up to entertain himself, he will not break from custom and constantly seeks fiscal compensation to satisfy rules and regulations: “Mr. Jeffs, sorrowfully, decided to drive round to tell Mrs. Hammond, so that he could collect what little was owing him” (65). Even though he bought a table from her, sold it to another, and then failed to buy it back from the other party for her, he must charge Mrs. Hammond because rules are the locus to his existence.

With these facts in mind, Mr. Jeffs does not succeed in life, but rather struggles. He is mostly empty, he lives through the stories that he invents and the stories that accompany them. Everything is a fiction, an empty thought, a hindrance to true meaning and happiness: “‘I cook my own food,’ said Mr. Jeffs again. ‘I do not bother anyone’” (68). Each night he returns home to systemic emptiness without any true purpose. A home that generates nothing more than a self-loathing hatred.

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