American author and satirist Kurt Vonnegut is known for his novels and short stories that usually offer scathing, darkly-humorous portrayals of society at large, often delving into elements from fantasy, dystopia, and science fiction. The short story, “Long Walk to Forever”, first published in the Ladies Home Journal in 1960, is part of his well-known collection of short stories – Welcome to the Monkey House. Using a third-person omniscient narrative voice, the story describes a conversation on a walk taken by a young man and woman, Newt and Catherine, who had been friends from childhood.
Summary | Long Walk to Forever
The story begins with the narrator introducing the two characters, unnamed at the very beginning, who have grown up together, with houses right next to each other. The two characters, Newt and Catherine, are now twenty and haven’t seen each other in a year. While they have always been warm and friendly, there never has been any discernible romantic inclination between the two.
One afternoon, unexpectedly, Newt knocks at Catherine’s door, to the latter’s surprise. Directly, he asks her if she could accompany him for a walk. Being naturally shy, Newt has a distinctive way of speaking of things in an unobtrusive and underrated manner in order to mask his shyness. Surprised, Catherine says that she had no idea that he was back in town. Newt informs that he just reached here from his station of posting in the army as the narrator adds that he was a private first class in artillery, and was still in his uniform. Catherine informs him that she is getting married in a week, and is too busy to take a walk but Newt insists, stating that the walk would make her “a rosy bride” which would be Newt’s wedding present to Catherine’s fiancée. Catherine invites him to her wedding, but Newt says that his being present would be unlikely, prompting Catherine to ask if his leave from the army isn’t long enough. Hearing this, Newt casually replies that he is not on sanctioned leave, but is “AWOL” i.e., Absent Without Leave in military terminology, which is a serious offense and is illegal. Shocked, Catherine asks for the reason behind his rash action, to which Newt replies: “I had to find out what your silver pattern is”. Disbelieving him, Catherine demands to know the real reason behind his unexpected arrival, and Newt discloses finally – he has come to see her, risking his job, career, and legal consequences because he is in love with her. He insists on taking a walk with her again, and this time she relents, agreeing to go on the walk with him, with “One foot in front of the other—through leaves, over bridges—”.
As they walk through the woods, Catherine is “angry and rattled, close to tears.” She angrily complains that he is “absolutely crazy” to tell her a week before her wedding that he loved her, while not leaving any other clue in this direction for all these years. She regrets coming out on a walk with him, worried about people’s reactions if they see them together. She asserts that she is deeply honored by his love, but she only feels friendly affection toward him and is completely unsure about how to respond to his sudden declaration of love. Newt just asks her to keep walking and have a nice time. Catherine asks if he had expected her to hug him on hearing his confession, and Newt answers that while it would have been nice, he wasn’t expecting anything and is not disappointed.
Catherine prepares to part, saying that the time has come for them to shake hands and part as friends. Newt asks her to remember him from time to time, and how much he loved her, making Catherine burst into tears of frustration, which she masks as rage. She bashes him for not saying anything for all these years, saying that had she been in his place, she would have told him sooner, as “Women aren’t very clever at hiding it.” Looking up at her face, Newt realizes that she is right, the narrative cleverly implying that she is in love with him too. Seeing the love in her eyes, he kisses her. While there is no show of active resistance from Catherine, she says that he shouldn’t have kissed her after they stop kissing. Newt asks if she didn’t like it, and Catherine avoids directly answering, asking him instead if he expected “wild, abandoned passion?”
They prepare to bid farewell once again, Catherine telling him that she does not regret kissing him and that she would always remember him. He says that one kiss will cost him a month inside a stockade i.e., a wooden barrier meant for confining or restricting criminals. Catherine chastises him for his rashness, saying that he doesn’t deserve the treatment of a hero after going AWOL. Newt asks if her fiancée is a hero. He asks if she loves him, to which she adamantly insists that she does. He asks again what she sees in him, and she asserts that he has many good qualities, along with several bad ones, just like any other man. Newt kisses her again because “she wanted him to”. Suddenly, Catherine is aware that they have wandered far away from home. They sit down under a tree, away from each other, and fall asleep, Newt asking her to dream of her fiancée. As Catherine shakes off her sleepiness, she ‘adores’ the sleeping Newt for an hour before waking him gently. Awake, he professes his love to her again, and both sigh, realizing that they are too late. As they prepare to part for the third time, Newt proposes to her, and Catherine turns him down gently. As he walks away, she sees him grow smaller in the distance, knowing that if he turns back and calls her, she would run into his arms. He does both, and the story ends with Catherine running back into his arms, “unable to speak”.
Rules of the Game | Analysis
The story is written in extremely simple, conversational language, with the majority of the action being in dialogues rather than reported speech. This increases the reader’s access to the characters’ interiorities and subjectivities without the filtered version that is offered by a third-person narrative. This is an unusual occurrence in a story with an omniscient narrator, and it enhances the open-endedness of the genre as well as the story in particular. Vonnegut also uses some simple but beautiful imagery of walking and forests, which adds to the poignancy of the story.
The characters are uncomplicated, as are their dialogues and motives. The story emphasizes a notion of pure, unselfish, “true love” that finds people at unexpected times and makes them take unimaginable risks, regardless of the dictates of law and society. There is a problematic aspect of assumed consent, as is often an issue with Vonnegut’s writings. Newt kisses Catherine twice without her permission, the second time going so far as to assume that it is she who wanted him to kiss her, without having indicated any such desire in her words or body language whatsoever. Catherine is mostly a passive recipient of Newt’s actions and decisions in the story and keeps going along with what he wants, apparently unable to help herself.
Despite this obviously problematic power dynamic, the story is undeniably beautiful and poignant, with the open-ended conclusion of Catherine running into Newt’s arms, without indicating if their symbolic union is lasting, or only a moment of bliss before the final farewell, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Rules of the Game | Themes
True Love – The story centers upon an idea of a “pure, true love” that is pervasive, unexpected, and in a way, destined. It does not listen to social or legal constraints and manages to find a way to the other person’s heart. It is sweet and uncomplicated, and impossible to resist. However, it does not guarantee a permanent between the lovers, but their loving encounter is always memorable.
Rules of the Game | Characters
Newt – The protagonist, Newt, is shy but resolute and self-aware. His love for Catherine is unselfish enough to let her get married to another man but selfish enough to confess to her a week before the wedding, ruining her plans to get married happily and without regrets. He is the one who primarily drives the action, and is the stronger one in the power dynamic.
Catherine – Sweet and kind, Catherine is also indecisive and essentially submissive, letting herself be driven by Newt’s sheer force of will. She is in love with him too but is in denial as she knows the consequences of ruining her reputation in society a week before her wedding. Her frustrated helplessness at Newt’s unexpected declaration of love makes her weaker in her resolve, allowing Newt to assume the driver’s position in the course of the story, placing her at the lower end of the power dynamic.