The Underlying Truths of Marriage
Marriage is the social institution in which a man and a woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitment and, often, by religious ceremony. This institution assures that the most basic fabric of a society remains intact. Nonetheless, those who have actually taken the vows of matrimony realize that a successful marriage requires so much more than an understanding of the dictionary definition.

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They know that this powerful commitment is the most intimate manner in which to show not only one’s love for another, but also one’s steadfast honor in remaining true to this lifetime promise. In Tobias Wolff’s “Say Yes,” a wife and her husband, while washing the dinner dishes, find themselves straying onto the topic of interracial marriage. Quickly, the tension between the two escalates into more than just an everyday chat. Wolff’s domestic tale explores a marriage in which a wife’s gentle spirit is juxtaposed against the belligerent aggression of her husband; Ann’s passive ingenuity in confronting her husband’s superficiality renders hope that their love will endure.

As a mundane exchange concerning the events of their day intensifies into a heated disagreement, the husband’s desire to dominate becomes evident. When his wife “pinches her brows together and bites her lower lip,” he realizes that “he should keep his mouth shut, but he never did.” Her husband understands that the woman he has married is painfully disconcerted, yet he continues to harass her belligerently to fortify his control. By citing statistics and facts as his evidence for his position on this controversial topic, he proves his inability, or refusal, to explore the much less tangible facets of his thoughts.

Despite his over-riding ego, he arrogantly believes that he is the quintessential mate, as he has overheard someone compliment his wife on having a husband who assists with the housework. Afterwards, he applauded himself as a modern man who has rejected the gender roles of the past and smugly congratulated himself for this open-mindedness. Reflecting on his self-perceived evolution from Neanderthal to enlightened being, hethinks, well, “I try.”

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His preconceived notion that the female in any partnership is necessarily the housekeeper reveals that he is not as liberated as he believes. This prejudice, coupled with his aggressive attitude towards his wife and his inability to explore the less tangible parts of his psyche, setshim in direct opposition to his wife.

Ann’s disposition contradicts that of her aggressive husband.Unlike him, she does not openly vent her frustration but remains composed, at least on the surface. Nonetheless her ability to control herself further infuriates him, in that, on some level at least, he is irritated that she possesses more self-control than he. His dominant demeanor surfaces again when she leaves the kitchen and enters the living room after the conversation. Opening a magazine, she turns the pages “slowly, as if she were studying every word.” Although her husband recognizes that she is too distressed to be absorbing the material, nonetheless she succeeds at “demonstrating her indifference to him, and it had the effect he knew she wanted it to have. It hurt him.”

Ann did not intentionally want to hurt her husband. She needed her husband to be able to come to the realization that everything is not all right in the relationship. Later, Ann is again able to torment her husband when she refuses to accept his shallow and cold-hearted apology that he offers to put an end to their conflict. To appease Ann, her husband tells her that he would marry Ann if she was black, contradicting what he had said earlier in their quarrel. Her husband thought he had given the perfect response to resolve their conflict, but she countered with a simple, “We’ll see.” Her indifferent response invoked his deepest emotions, which is precisely what Ann sought to accomplish. Ann used her feminine ingenuity to combat her husband’s fatuous remarks about what she perceives as the superficial aspects of attraction. In the beginning of the dispute, Ann was the one asking the questions and trying to elicit answers from her husband.

Then, towards the end of the day, once both of them had had time to sort through what happened during the fight, the husband becomes the one struggling to obtain any thoughtful responses from his wife. Finally, Ann commands her husband to turn off the lights in the bedroom before she enters. Ann knows that, for their relationship to be successful, they must focus on the spiritual facets of their love, rather than the artificial, outermost layer of their allure. She sees that it will take considerable effort to prompt her husband to dig deeper into their marriage, but she knows this is the only way they will live on together as a loving husband and wife. Ann’s passive ingenuity in confronting her husband’s dominance and aggression allows the superficial barrier that separates them to be broken down.

A role reversal between the wife and her husband occurs; Ann takes on the dominant role and her husband takes on the submissive role in the relationship. Ann establishes the fact to her husband that they must dive deeper into the spiritual realm of their relationship, which is illustrated by Ann telling the man she married to turn off the bedroom lamp before she enters the bedroom. The darkness and the fact that Ann’s husband said he feels like there is a “stranger” in the room symbolizes that their relationship has to start fresh to survive. Wolff’s dramatic anecdote is left open-ended, leaving the reader without a full knowledge of what exactly occurs after Ann’s husband turned off the lights in their bedroom. Wolff does this to show that not all relationships will be saved and that the outcome of the relationship, good or bad, depends on how deep the couple’s love for one another is.

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