Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Too Young to Marry"

"Too Young to Marry" was published in the September 25, 1955 issue of This Week. A typically brief (for This Week) story of 1,900 words, it reads today like a document from another world. In the 55 years since it was published, so much has changed in American society, especially in its manners and morality, that "Too Young to Marry" would probably seem incomprehensible to young people reading it today. The thought of "waiting until marriage" is likely akin to healing with leeches in the minds of most modern readers.

Jud Harrison and Nancy Rawlings, both 17-years old and about to start their senior year in high school, are deeply in love. "Flushed, level-eyed and deeply serious," the two gravely make their intentions of marriage known to both sets of parents: they want to get married. Now. Jud's father Walt is shocked and doesn't quite know what to say. Nancy's father Jim does: "In white anger, he made some comments to Jud that Jud did not care to repeat to his father." Sensing a possible elopement if he tries to put his foot down, Walt meets with Jim to talk it over.

Jim's solution is limited to ordering Nancy to avoid seeing Jud any more. Walt senses the kids' "spirit of rebellion" and proposes a stalling tactic. Eventually getting Jim to agree, the two sets of parents present the proposal to Jud and Nancy. Walt does the talking:

"We think you're both too young. We think you ought to wait. At least a year. But we know we can't pin you down that way without creating resentment. Jim and I have decided we can do this. We know you're both practical kids. You've both had spare-time jobs and summer jobs. Jim and I will each set aside one hundred dollars a month in a special account for you two... we figure we can do it. Each month you'll be saving two hundred dollars for your future... we would both have preferred to spend that money on your education, but that will be your choice. We've all agreed to it and we want you to think it's fair."

After determining that they could end the arrangement any time prior to the full year and still collect what had accumulated to that point, the kids agree. Jim is convinced that before the year is out the two will have tired of each other. "A year is a very long time to them," he tells his wife Mary. "These things end quickly. They'll break up. We're just buying time."

The story opens at the end of that year, as the two sets of parents meet to hear the decision of their still-in-love children.

Jud and Nancy are peripheral characters in this short tale, as the third person narration focuses on father Walt. And it all works out in a nice, logical, sensible Fifties way, as it only could in This Week. MacDonald's lesson here is that given the proper regard, kids will make the right decisions. True in that long-ago decade, and probably true today.

The story was included in an anthology published in 1963 titled Time of Understanding: Stories of Girls Learning to Get Along with Their Parents, edited by Helen Ferris. "Too Young to Marry" was an interesting selection, since at no point in the story are we allowed to share any interaction between Nancy and her parents.

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