How Strong Can Love Be

How Strong Can Love BeTheodore Dreiser gives an answer to this question through Henry, the main character of his story. This personage embodies real human fears and it makes us perceive the depth of the human soul and its hunger and attachment to love.
How strong can love be? What can it cause us to do? What can it do to our minds? How can it control our actions? How can it form, shape, and change our lives? What is it like for one who has loved another for many years and have their love returned, to be separated by death? Theodore Dreiser wrote about such a character who experienced this.

The character’s name is Henry; he was married to woman by the name of Phoebe for forty-eight years. After forty-eight years of marriage what kind of love did Henry have for Phoebe? Sometimes Henry thought about what he would do if Phoebe passed away before him; he was scared of this thought. Each night he would wind up the house clock that was so very old, lock the doors that were even older, and took great comfort knowing that Phoebe was in their bed waiting on him. It seems in our old age we have a hard time falling and staying asleep and of course Henry had this same problem; Phoebe would lovingly chastise him for his constant movement during the nights.

""Now, Henry, do lie still! You’re as restless as a chicken." "Well, I can’t sleep Phoebe." "Well you don’t have to roll over so much. You can let me sleep." This would usually put him to sleep.""

Henry and Phoebe took care of each other in the simple everyday tasks of living. If Phoebe needed a pail of water, Henry would of course grumble, but secretly within his heart he gloried in being able to perform this simple task for the one he loved. If Phoebe was the first to rise in the morning, Henry would also get up with her to make sure she had wood to build her fire and that the wood was where Phoebe could comfortably reach it.

At the age of 64 during a cold spring night, Phoebe fell ill and passed away leaving Henry alone. He fetched the doctor but because of Phoebe’s age there was nothing the doctor could do. Henry’s fear became a reality. He could of moved in with his youngest daughter, but he wanted to be as near to his Phoebe as he possibly could. Henry tried to stay busy with farming, but he had begun to lose interest in life. Sadly, in the evening times Henry knew he would return home where the only trace of Phoebe were the physical things she had left behind. Those things were the only trace of proof that she had existed. Henry would always read newspapers at night that his friends had brought him or he would pick up his Bible, which he hadn’t touched in years, and begin to read it for comfort… but nothing seemed to bring him comfort.

Henry spent most of his time at home sitting and thinking about where his Phoebe had gone to; following this thought would be the question how much longer would it be before he died? Henry would make his coffee each morning and fry himself up some bacon for supper, but he had no appetite. Who wants to cook for oneself and eat alone? Henry lived in this state for five lonely months; afterwards, something began to happen. One night Henry was in his bed awake of course thinking of his beloved Phoebe; the moon was out shining in all her glory and near midnight Henry fell asleep. At two that morning however, he awoke to see moonlight streaming through the living room windows and there behind a chair his coat was hanging making a shadow quite close to a table. To Henry, the shadow looked like Phoebe sitting there the way she used to. Henry asked himself, "Could it be she – or her ghost?" In the soft moonlight of that night, Henry continued to stare at the shadow that had the figure of his Phoebe. His hair felt like it was rising; sitting up Henry couldn’t take his eyes off of the figure like shadow; Henry had never believed in the existence of spirits, however, here was his Phoebe bent over the table with her black dress on, and her face shining in the soft moonlight. ""Phoebe," he called, excited from head to toe. "Have you come back?" The figure did not move. He got up and walked uncertainly towards the door, watching it carefully. As he came near, however, the ghost became once more his coat upon the chair. "Well," he said to himself, his mouth open in wonder, "I surely thought I saw her." He ran his hands through his hair while the excitement relaxed. Although it had disappeared, he had the idea that she might return.""

One night after this incident Henry was looking out one of his windows, and he watched as mist began to rise, and once again he thought he saw his Phoebe; he continued watching her till a gentle wind pushed the mist away. Another night, Henry dreamt that his Phoebe came to bed and said, ""Poor Henry," she said. "It’s too bad." He woke up and thought he saw her move from the bedroom into the living room."" Two other nights Henry saw a soft light moving around his room; the other he saw his Phoebe walking in their orchard. One morning Henry awoke and simply couldn’t bear it anymore; he could not continue living this unbearable feeling of loneliness. That morning he awoke with the thought that his Phoebe was not dead; they had had a meaningless squabble over a complaint; he couldn’t find his smoking pipe once again and once again thought she had moved it; she hadn’t though, and of course he would find it right were he had left it. After incidents like this one, his Phoebe would always lovingly tell him with a smile that if he simply did not behave himself she would simply have to leave, and he would never find her.

That’s it! He simply had to find his Phoebe! That morning Henry’s life would change drastically; he started thinking about where his Phoebe could possibly be and where he should start looking for her? She had to be at one of the neighbors’ house . . . Henry went from neighbor to neighbor enquiring if they had seen his Phoebe? Henry walked for miles between each of his neighbors asking the same question over and over day in and day out. Every day he would travel further and further away from the house; for many years after the "squabble" Henry’s neighbors got used to seeing him on a daily basis with same question. Henry wasted away to nothing but skin and bones; his hair covered his face and hung down to his chest. Eventually, he spent his nights out under the stars for he had just walked too far to return home. He came to the conclusion that she simply wasn’t in any of his neighbors’ homes, but maybe she could hear his voice? Henry’s neighbors came to accept the sound of Henry calling out to his Phoebe as he wandered around the countryside. Henry died one spring night after searching and calling out for his Phoebe after seven years. He thought for the last time that he saw his Phoebe and followed her over a steep cliff.

Once again I ask, how strong can love be? What can it cause us to do? What can it do to our minds? How can it control our actions? How can it form, shape, and change our lives? What is it like for one who has loved another for many years and have their love returned, to be separated by death one day?

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