Ship Fever

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Letter writing: An analysis of a communication method
A letter between man and wife has the capacity to be powerful, intimate and beautiful. However, in the case of Arthur's letter to Lauchlin in the opening pages of Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever, the language Arthur uses when addressing his wife Susanna is cold and removed. Due to the circumstances of Arthur overseas and Susanna at home in Quebec, letter writing proved to be the only possible form of communication between them at the time. While the exchange of letters provides the writer with the ability to have slow and indirect communication with the receiver, Arthur distanced himself from his wife and chose to address his letter to Lauchlin instead. Thus, in this instance, letter writing served as a barrier between Susanna and Arthur; Arthur not only fails to write his wife directly, but also mentions her to Lauchlin in a brief and obtuse manner. Upon receiving the letter, Lauchlin, who seemingly has more compassion for Susanna than Arthur does, chooses to appease Susanna and deliver the letter’s message in a more sympathetic manner. Ultimately, the way in which Arthur communicates, or fails to communicate with his wife signifies a distant and problematic relationship between them that continues to manifest itself in the remainder of the novella. The very essence of letter writing is a distant method of communication in and of itself for a few reasons. Firstly, letter writing can be used to barricade the true emotions of a person. For example, when one reads a letter they may not necessarily be able to decipher the writer’s tone or conjure the sentiments intended by the sender. Secondly, the period that elapses between the time a letter is written, sent, received and finally read is vast. Moreover, a letter’s time span is especially lengthy when either the sender or receiver is at sea, as was the case of Arthur’s letter to Lauchlin in which: “ winter had delayed the mail even longer than usual” (Ship Fever,...
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