The character Francis Weed in the short story The Country Husband by John Cheever might be a very difficult character for the reader to sympathize with, since he did so many cruel and selfish things to the people around him. However, at the very least, his actions can be easily explained by the suppressive 1950s environment that he had lived in for so long, his brush with death on the airplane which made him driven to enjoy life, as well as his familys own self-absorbed nature that left him feeling isolated.
The story is based in the stereotypical American 1950s suburban environment and, according to Nicholas Hun Brown of the Toronto Star, is one of the first stories to illustrate the alienating and conformity-based culture in suburbs (Brown para.24). Francis Weed himself subconsciously finds the suburbs repressive to his personality. The first sign of how repressed he feels is when he recognizes the maid at the party. Despite its significance as a once-in-a-million meeting, he feels as though he cannot say anything, since; The people in Farquarsons Living room seem united in their tactic claim that there had been no past, no warThat there was no danger or trouble in the world. (pg 76) This incident may have triggered Francis unconscious resistance against the narrow and irrelevant suburban society. In fact, Francis Weeds name is a symbol of what his true self is to Shady Hills; an ugly troublesome weed to the regular people, and that he will remain unhappy by staying in Shady Hills.
Francis Weeds brush with death at the stories beginning causes him to have the epiphany to start enjoying life, and he realizes that he is unhappy with following suburban societys expectations. The experience of driving their hired babysitter home and being kissed in front of her house reawakens his memories of being a youth, and he finds the potential relationship youthfully mysterious and enthralling which causes him to nurture his crush, while creating a barrier between him and society. Franciss taboo sexuality for Anna and other woman may be the authors expression of what living with a suppressed sexuality is like, since the author John Cheever was a bisexual, who lived in the suburbs with a wife in the 1950s. When Francis later watches the naked women on the train, despite being a married man, and snaps at Mrs. Wrightson moments afterwards, he realizes that expressing what he felt, and doing what he wanted to do, regardless of the society at large, made him feel alive, young and happy.
The last factor affecting Francis Weeds actions is the isolation and chaos he feels within his own family. It is implied that he finds his family fighting chaotically amongst each other everyday when he comes home, and after his brush with death causes him to feel his mortality; he realizes how frustrating he finds his family life to be. Francis feels as though nobody understands, cares or listens to him. As well, his relationship with his wife is implied to be very weak; Shes my girl, their host said, squeezing his wife. Shes my blue sky. After sixteen years, I still bite her shoulder-The Weeds drove home in silence.(pg 80) However, because it is the 1950s, Francis is morally trapped with his family since a divorce would leave his wife and children in a very bad situation. He finds that his current relationship with his wife is dull and boring, while his potential relationship with Anna is mysterious and exciting, as if he were teenager again.
Overall, the factors influencing Francis Weeds actions are the suppressive 1950s environment that he had lived in, his brush with death on the airplane which made him driven to enjoy life, and his families own self-absorbed nature which left him feeling isolated. While a person may be able to sympathize with his impulsive rudeness to others, or perhaps even with his teenage crush on Anna, his attempts to actually develop a relationship with Anna are selfish and inexcusable. Before he even acted upon his romantic fantasies by buying Anna a bracelet and kissing her, he is well aware that by doing so, he could end up in jail and bring his family to ruin. He acted upon it anyways, and selfishly risked ruining his families lives in the process. It can be hoped that by being scared by the policeman and getting help from the psychiatrist, Francis comes to the important realization that he must not do anything so selfish and irrationally risky again.