***SPOILER ALERT*** If you want to enjoy a good ghost story, click here to experience the story yourself before you continue.
“The Friends of Friends” is written as a first-person retrospective narration within a frame. The nameless protagonist manipulates the reader into understanding the story through her rationale. In the protagonist’s eyes, the supernatural elements in her environment has intervened with her affairs. She displays herself as a victim.
The story starts with the protagonist having two friends who both have a supernatural experience in the past.
One friend, who is a married woman in an unhappy marriage, witnessed a spiritual visage of her father at the time of his death.
During the same year of this occurrence, the protagonist’s other friend, a man who will become her fiance later in the story, witnesses his mother during his time in Oxford at the time of her death. Due to this peculiar similarity, the protagonist is convinced that the two must meet each other.
At this point, the protagonist feels a attachment to her two friends. She is the important central connection of two unique friends with a significant history. Being the important, and somewhat powerful “middle man” is her emotional attachment to her current environment.
When the protagonist accepts the marriage proposal of the male friend, she insists on a photograph of him as an engagement present. When her female friend makes a visit to congratulate the protagonist on her engagement, she sees the male friend for the first time.
“She… looked a long time at his picture, about which she made no memorable remark, though she even turned it over to see the back.”
In the back of the photograph was the fiancee’s name and address. To look in the back of the photograph is peculiar when the picture is set as a chimney piece. This small detail is crucial for the reader, not just the characters. The fact that the female friend obtained the location of fiance determines the interpretation of the reader—it creates room for the reader to doubt the protagonist. Every interaction the characters have with their environment is crucial because it determines the underlying truth of the protagonist’s consciousness—both memory and experience.
During this same visit, the protagonist plans an appointment on a weekend afternoon for the two friends to meet. When the next morning arrived, the protagonist receives news that her friend’s husband has passed away. With this notice, the protagonist sees her widowed friend as a threat to her marriage (See analysis in the Jealousy located below). So, she tells her fiance that the meeting is canceled and chooses not to relay the same information to her friend. Therefore, her friend waits all afternoon for nothing.
The protagonist regrets her duplicitous deed and plans to tell her friend the truth in the next morning. During her attempt to make amends, the protagonist arrives at her friend’s house to find out that her friend was dead after coming home at the unusual late hour of 11 o’clock. When relaying the news of her friend’s death to her fiance, he informs her that the time of her friend’s death was impossible because he saw her the previous night. Due to their similar history with the supernatural, the protagonist is convinced that her friend visited the fiance as a ghost upon the hour of her death. Comparing his incident in Oxford with the ghostly visage of his mother, the fiance claims that the friend was alive when he saw her. No words were exchanged during this mysterious visit. The two friends simply looked at each other for 20 minutes. When her fiance informs her how long the visit lasted, the protagonist is enraged with jealousy and suspicion of her fiancee’s purity.
In the protagonist’s twisted logic, she is no longer the central connection between the two friends. While her friends are contacting to each other through the boundary of life and death, the protagonist has lost her attachment to this environment. Therefore, she leaves the environment.
The protagonist cancels the wedding and breaks the engagement because their relationship has changed. The protagonist is the one who wanted her friend and fiance to meet. She is, also, the one to force her fiance for a photograph. He complies and, yet, he is the one who got punished.
The protagonist herself firmly believes that her female friend and her fiance are a perfect match because they are the same in personality and preference. This induction is the knowledge component to James’s theorized consciousness. Their potential acquaintances becomes a hazard to the protagonist’s marriage. The protagonist admits:
“it wasn’t jealousy—it just was the dread of jealousy… She had been hitherto the victim of interference, but it was quite possible she would henceforth be the source of it.”
To avoid the risk of losing her future husband, the protagonist prevents the two from meeting in the afternoon. This deed is the response to the environment—the second component to James’s consciousness. She has informed her fiance that the meeting is canceled and she continues the meeting with her female friend. The protagonist is living in an environment with a consistent pattern of human interaction: her two friends never meet or see each other. This stable interaction is interrupted when the protagonist requests a photograph of her fiance and allowing the friend to see the other.
During the preparation of the wedding, the protagonist struggles with the jealousy that she feels. She is suspicious of her fiance’s true emotions. She breaks off the wedding:
I put it before him on a certain evening that we must reconsider our situation and recognise that it had completely altered. He stared bravely, ‘How in the world altered?’ ‘Another person has come between us.’ … He smiled in pity for my aberration, but he meant to be kind. ‘A woman dead and buried!’
The protagonist’s environment has been altered—the woman who incited guilt and jealousy has contact with her fiance. She accuses him of seeing her friend every night with the supernatural power they share of seeing the dead. She refuses to have what’s left of him after he reserves his best for the dead friend.
“He challenged me my sincerity, my sanity, almost my humanity, and that of course widened our breach and confirmed our rupture.”
In the end, both he and the protagonist do not marry each other and at all.
“He never married, any more than I’ve done. When six years later, in solitude and silence, I heard of his death, I hailed it as a direct contribution to my theory.”
According to the protagonist, her fiance is unfaithful to her because he engages an affair with a ghost which consists of intimately deep gazes. Upon hearing the news of her friend’s death, the protagonist feels guilty and responsible until her fiance informs her of his encounter with the friend. For those who are firm believers of realism, the man indeed does meet the friend. The obsession and suspicion of the “ghost” that the protagonist is convinced of was in fact a manifestation of her guilt and jealousy—the fact that there is another woman better for her fiancee than her. Along with the fact that the protagonist interferes between what should have been the ideal love affair. In the end, the protagonist claims that her ex-fiance’s lack of marriage and early death is a result of his affair with a dead woman in which their relationship has advanced so long that it was time for him to join her. But, within the realm of realism, the man was heartbroken from the irrationality and insanity of the protagonist whom he loved.
- Brain, Self, & Environment
- The Senses
- Theories of Mind